University of California Berkeley
I've never not been sure that I was a
photographer, any more than you would
not be sure that you were yourself.
I was a photographer getting to be a
photographer, or wanting to be a photographer,
or beginning to be a photographer but some
phase of photographer I've always been.
Dorothea Lange, 1895-1965
(from the interview)
B SEW I 3Bffi 9iua ngsd 3on tavsn sv'I
bluow uov fiEria 9iom vnB , igriqEigozJorfq
.^Isstuoy 979W uov iBrfl STUB gd ion
B ed 03 jiniuss TsriqBTSolorfq B asw I
6 gd oi sniinsv; ^ ,i9riqB^go3odq
3ud -rsriaBTgoioriq B sd o3 jjninniggd TO
Dorothea Lange in 1956
Copyright 1968, Rondal Partridge
All commercial rights are reserved,
University of California Bancroft Library/Berkeley
Regional Oral History Office
THE MAKING OF A DOCUMENTARY PHOTOGRAPHER
An Interview Conducted by
This manuscript is made available for research
purposes. All literary rights in the manuscript,
including the right to publish, are reserved to The
Bancroft Library of the University of California at
Berkeley. No part of the manuscript may be quoted
for publication without the written permission of
the Director of The Bancroft Library of the
University of California at Berkeley.
Requests for permission to quote for publication
should be addressed to the Regional Oral History
Office, 486 Library, and should include identification
of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use
of the passages, and identification of the user.
The home of Dorothea Lange and Paul Taylor at 1163 Euclid
Avenue In Berkeley is approached down a steep, banked path.
At the end of the walk is a great, large door; gongs and bells
give a choice of ways of asking admittance. Inside is a
landing and ahead, down a few steps, is the living room; the
dining room is to the right; the stairs, upstairs, are at the
left. It is a many-leveled, private, beautiful, 1910 Berkeley
house, completely settled into its surroundings.
Our first interview in October 1960 was held in the
living room, a room with a view of trees off a balcony at the
far end; inside it was all soft colors of wood and oatmeal
white painted wool-covered walls and a very warm fire. The
black and white of Dorothea's photographs spread across a
long working desk in that room. For most of the rest of the
interviews we sat in the dining room. It was late afternoon
when we talked Dorothea saved mornings for work so that it
always seemed the sun was setting as the interview closed,
and that room received the last rays of light.
It would be fun now to visit the house again and to
notice more, to get details, captions, like Dorothea's
photographs. But of course it is not a monument; it was and
is alive and changing, yet held together by the same taste:
effortless-looking and art.
In the interview sessions Dorothea spoke slowly because
she allowed herself to reflect and to remember as she spoke.
She was really trying to get back, to answer the questions and
then to "close the door" on the past. Her speech was quiet
and thoughtful; I could not tell when it was mingled with pain
from her illness, when not. But she was compelling, spell-
casting, and I felt my questions came as rude splashes in the
pool of her thoughts.
Obviously I was enchanted with the woman. I still speak
and write of impressions of her, not facts. I cannot guess
how much she was aware of any specialness about herself.
When, in the interview, she spoke about peoples' attitudes
towards Maynard Dixon, I should have asked her what she
thought others thought about her, and how that affected her,
but I did not have such questions in my mind then. Certainly
to me she was a different person from the Dorothea who is the
subject of the Memorial Service tributes appended; to them,
and to Wayne Miller in his tribute,* she was the real person
who made excellent photographs and ran a real household and
was a substance and a strength to her friends and her family.
Dorothea Lange was chosen in 1960 to be interviewed by
the Regional Oral History Office because of her part in the
history of artistic developments in the Bay Area. She agreed
to the interviewing reluctantly, and mostly because of her
husband's enthusiasm for the idea. She warned me that she
would probably go deep, that she was very interested in the
personal, in her own self; at the same time that she doubted
how good a subject for interviewing she would be, she allowed
that "people who maintain they don't like to have their picture
taken usually really do like it."
The transcript of the interview bothered her. For a long
time she was unable to do anything with it. I have notes in
my files on conversations with her that reflect her desper-
ation. She said at one point that she had come nearly to
throwing the manuscript into the fireplace, but she realized
she had to deal with it, that it gave a picture of herself
that she did not like but that she thought not entirely
false just not true enough. Again she likened it to, in
photography, the difficulty people have in choosing among
proofs for the most honest likeness.
In subsequent conversations she was "squirming" or
"guilty" about the manuscript. Often she was not well and
then when she was well she was very busy. I gave her the
edited transcript in January 1962 and we expected to have it
back to type by spring. In February and March she had a
series of operations. By August of that year she was better
and clearing the way to go to Egypt with Paul Taylor. In
October 1963 we talked about her concern about the manuscript
while she had been gone and she admitted her dread of its
being released as it then was. When in September 1964 she
told me that her cancer was incurable, she had begun desper-
ately to organize her time. That fall she was involved with
preparations for her Museum of Modern Art retrospective and a
film taping done by KQED, San Francisco, for National
Educational Television. Apparently the filming gave her
agonies like those endured around editing the manuscript, but
it was at some time in there that she read through and
corrected the manuscript. Her changes were very few, and
minor perhaps she had come to terms with her earlier regret
that the manuscript was not the absolutely true statement she
wished to have made.
Dorothea Lange died on October 11, 1965. However, it was
not until 1967 that her husband, Paul Taylor, was ready to
read and to agree to the release of the manuscript. In Novem-
ber when I met with Paul Taylor and we went over Dorothea's
corrections he added some footnotes and was very helpful in
getting material collected to append to the final manuscript.
Suzanne B. Riess, Interviewer
Regional Oral IHwtory Office
University of California
July 3, 1968
Dorothea Lange Taylor, 1895-1965, was interviewed by the Regional
Oral History Office as a part of a series on Bay Area artistic and
Interviewer: Suzanne Riess, Interviewer-Editor, Regional Oral
History Office, University of California, Berkeley.
Time and Setting of Interviews: October 27, November 2, November
10, November 17, December 29, 1960; January 5,
January 12, March 2, August 10, August 17, August
All interviews but one were held in the home of
the interviewee. One meeting was held on the
University campus. Each session lasted approximately
one and a half hours and was usually conducted in
late afternoon. The only persons present were the
interviewer and the interviewee.
Conduct of the Interviews: A chronological approach was encouraged,
although the interviewer introduced topical questions
and encouraged comment on them within the chronological
framework. No list of questions or outline was
submitted to the interviewee ahead of time; the
interviewer worked with about ten broad questions in
mind to be answered at each session.
Editing: The interviewer edited and indexed the manuscript.
Material from a verbatim transcription of the tape was
arranged both for chronology and to bring together
some scattered comments on the same subject, and the
work was organized in chapter headings. The interviewee
received this edited transcript in January 1962 and
edited it between that time and late 1964; very few
corrections were made, and those mostly in response to
queries about spelling. In November 1967 the manuscript
was released to the Regional Oral History Office for
final typing by the deceased interviewee's husband,
Dr. Paul Taylor.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
INTERVIEW HISTORY v
TABLE OF CONTENTS vi
THE LONG PAST - "THINGS THAT FORM US" 1
School and After School 11
New York Studio Experience 28
Clarence White 36
More Teachers - "The Lovable Hacks" 44
Gifts and Giving 57
THE RECENT PAST - "PUTTING THE FABRIC TOGETHER" 78
Studio on Sutter Street 78
Maynard Dixon and Bohemian San Francisco 93
Three Southwestern Expeditions 121
INTO THE PRESENT, FUTURE - "THE LIFE THAT BEATS" 144
Corner Window 144
Documentary Photography "Begins" 154
Into the Field 159
Photography for the Government 167
Farm Security Administration 167
Office of War Information 179
War Relocation Authority 185
Taking and Printing a Picture 195
Captioning and Exhibiting 204
Observations and Hopes for the Future 213
!l -- y
Dorothea T.ange included this note with the edited manuscript.
THE LONG PAST- -"THINGS THAT FORM US"
Lange: My grandmother was a temperamental, difficult, talented woman.
She was a dressmaker, a very good one, but she was difficult.
She was one of those people that have many legends and stories
crushed around them. My mother was a much better person than
my grandmother, but there aren't any legends about ray mother;
about my grandmother there are dozens, and they never leave.
Riess: How was your mother better?
Lange: She had a better nature, a nicer character, she was more kind
and compassionate and unselfish. My grandmother was the
I very early remember that my grandmother told me that
of all the things that were beautiful in the world there was
nothing finer than an orange, as a thing. She said this to me
as a child, and I knew what she meant, perfectly. My mother
needed an explanation for that. And I've caught myself, many
years later, with my own grandchildren, showing them what a
beautiful thing is an eggshell, forgetting where I had gotten
that. And I realize, too, so often I cook the way she did,
though sho never actually taught mo how to cook.
Riess: How's that?
Lange: Well, there's a certain kind of a very particular, fastidious
way. Has to be just right.
Lange: Oh, no. It's that you throw it out if it's not just right. You
don't even eat only the best of it. You just throw it out.
Riess: That's hard on a hungry family.
Lange: Well, you don't often throw it out, but you have the impulse.
I remember hearing my grandmother say one time when I was
a child of six or seven I'd been watching my grandmother sew and
I heard her say to my mother, in the German dialect that she spoke,
"That girl has line in her head." You know what she meant? That
sense I had very early of what was fine and what was mongrel,
what was pure and what was corrupted in things, and in workmanship,
and in cool, clean, cleanly thought about something. I had that.
I was aware of that.
Riess: It was learned by the example of your grandmother?
Lange: No, though I recognized some things in her that made us closer in
our relationship than my mother and I were. We participated in
those things. My grandmother had a way of protecting me from my
mother too. My mother was her only daughter and they were devoted
to each other, but my grandmother knew that I was smarter than my
mother. | Laughter] She did. I mean I was more sensitive than
Lange: my mother. It was an awareness of things.
Riess: Was your grandmother living with you?
Lange: No. My grandmother lived in Hoboken, where I was born. They
were immigrants, that side of the family from whom I came. In
fact I always had a kind of a feeling of, "What kind of people
could these people have been that they came on a ship and then
plomped themselves down, right there?" I mean they didn't have
the gumption to go to Cincinnati or Milwaukee or Chicago. They
just stayed right there in Hoboken. They must have been dying
to go back! Well, they were pretty spirited people, and they
But in this family, of whom my grandmother was a part,
there were three brothers, and two sisters, and a mother. And
those three brothers were all lithographers and very good ones.
They were very young when they came; they were in their twenties,
these brothers. And they all of them were established as
lithographers immediately, and were never anything but lithog-
raphers, and very good ones, as I said. Then two of my mother's
brothers became very expert lithographers. Although I didn't
know anything about what they did actually, I used to see these
lithograph stones that they engraved on, and I used to like those
stones. I had one for years that I kept, until my mother threw
it away when she broke up her old home. She didn't see anything
in it. My grandmother wouldn't have thrown it away.
Lange: Actually I didn't like my rich German relatives much.
They were really Teutonic people. Later on they put up the money,
which I didn't appreciate, so I could go to school further so I'd
have an education, "something to fall back on," and be a teacher,
and that I didn't want to do.
Aunt Caroline, my temperamental grandmother's younger
sister, was the only completely reliable person, to me and to
the whole family. She was an eighth-grade teacher who lived a
systematic, regular, quiet life, and the only one who could hold
my grandmother in line. She came to this country when she was
six years old, in the steerage with this whole family. I only
discovered that when I was about thirty. Imagine it! They
would never say they came in the steerage; that was a family
secret! And it used to take a long time to come over and they
carried their own food with them on those boats. You got places
to sleep, but everyone brought his own commissary, and my Aunt
Caroline, years later, was told that she got very, very seasick
and every day her brothers had to throw out some of the food.
And they had some macaroons! [Laughter] Almond paste! Imagine
taking that. And she got sick on the almond paste. She never
would even think of going back again because she would never
face a boat ride. Never! But she was really a fine teacher.
She used to read to her classes. Friday afternoons, the last
half hour, she used to read a book called Woodcarver of Linz,
Lange: and Toby Tyler, and Peck's Bad Boy, and Olympus. One of those
adored teachers. She used to have a spring hat and a winter
hat. Every spring she got another dress; every winter she
got another dress. There was no J.C. Penney's in those days.
Riess: She preserved all the old ones?
Lange: Oh, they were turned. The black would be worn so much it got
green and shiny so the dress was ripped apart and it was turned.
My grandmother used to make Aunt Caroline's things. She always
tried to introduce a few notes of change, or a little bit of
something novel in a dress, and my aunt would always have to
battle with her over it. A battle that I heard about once
was when my grandmother finally gave in, or pretended to give
in, and she said, in German, "All right, Caroline, we will make
it absolutely simple, absolutely simple, and not a sign of an
overskirt." And my poor Aunt Caroline had to back down; of course
she had to have an overskirt' [Laughter]
Riess: Would you tell me some more about your mother?
Lange: For many people she was very important but for me there was
so much of which I never spoke to her, and she was more dependent
on me than I was on her. Inwardly, my mother had qualities of
dependence and the outward appearance of things was very important
to her. She had what bothers me in Germans, some kind of a
respect for authority that I don't like. When I had polio she
used to be that way with the doctors, and although I was a little
Lange: child, I hated it. She was slightly obsequious to anyone in
authority. I can see now why she might be that way, but it
was always so. I never liked it at all. Germans are always
being aware of what other people would think of them. When
I was a growing child and we were out, and some friend was
approaching us, she would say to me, "Now walk as well as you
can." Again it was, "What would people think?"
And later on, years later on, she would often use the
phrase, "Oh, I'm proud of you 1 ." That bothered me. It would
always be if my name was in the paper. [Laughter] The very
same thing about which my name was in the paper she wasn't
proud of until someone else told her.
Yet I made a photograph of her, which is through and
through my mother, and it reveals that I loved her very much.
I suppose if one of my children were here discussing their
relationship to me they would be able to think of things that
were quite horrifying, dreadful, that I did, that I was and
am unaware of, as she was unaware. Don't you think so? I'm
sure, especially between mothers and daughters. Well, I'm
sure too my sons could tell me things that I would want to
My mother once said to me, "You have much more iron in
you than I have." And it's true. I have more iron. Maybe I
can be more cruel. Maybe it is in my independence, which is
I li.iu -.In- li.nl .
Lange: She was also rather sentimental, which I have been too,
but I loathe it in other people. Sentiment and sentimentality,
they are difficult concepts to manage. I must show you the
portrait of my mother someday, because she was a very handsome
woman, very well spoken of, my Lord!
Riess: She became something of an authority in social work, didn't she?
Lange: She became number one probation officer of Hudson County, New
Jersey, a well-known and competent woman, but not really an
authority. She was reliable and good, responsible, compassionate,
but I don't think she threw light in any area as the result of
her presence. I mean she contributed, she was part of the
machinery, but she didn't really have any developed uniqueness
of understanding in her area, in her work. Things were pretty
backward in Hudson County, and still are. She was unique in
that she had integrity, and no one ever tried to even break
that down. But in nothing that she did was there originality,
no style. Everyone liked her though.
Riess: Did she consider your grandmother an authority figure?
Lange: Yes, she was a devoted daughter--a much more devoted daughter
than I ever was. She did in the direction her mother told her
My mother took care of her youngest brother, after my
grandmother's death, in the same way my grandmother had taken
care of him. Watched over him. Temperamental son-of-a-gun he
Lange: always was. One of the figures of my life, this Uncle John.
But she did much too much to take care of him. Do you know
the movie actress Hope Lange? That's John's daughter. In
the paper yesterday I saw that Hopie's going to be in a new
picture, going to be with Elvis Presley. My Hopie! How can
she do that? Hopie is ray cousin--although Hopie is only twenty-
six! Don Murray is her husband. And Hopie is a Lange, she's
a real Lange, that girl.
Riess: I'm not sure what a "real Lange" is.
Lange: Well, I'm not sure either. But my mother took care of her
father, John, just the way her mother had done. He was the
favorite, and he was a spoiled pup. He was a cellist, a very
fine one. David Lange, my cousin and Hopie's brother, is
a young playwright. I think he's going to be good. But he
runs around with too-rich people, and that's bad.
Riess: Would you tell me about your brother, Martin.
Lange: My brother is six years younger than I and in all my life we
have never really been separated. He lives here in Berkeley
now, and he is my very good friend. We are utterly different
people, and I have only in the last few years been able not to
be his big sister, and always a little worried about him. Always,
always I had my eye on him. He's done some pretty terrible things
against himself. Even now I'm not absolutely sure that I'm
not going to have to take care of him. I have always been a
Lange: little uncertain about him, but I'm devoted to him and my
children love him. He is somewhat of a character.
Riess: What does he do?
Lange: He is a printer. He has his own business and he prints language
cards, which he sells mail-order. These are for high schools
for the aid of language teachers. He has another device that
he's developing, something that has to do with logarithms.
I don't know quite what. But it's just out this year and he's
very much concerned, he's put everything into it. He works
about eighteen hours a day the year round. He's a terrific
Riess: Sounds like he hasn't time to get in trouble.
Lange: Well, he can get into great debt. That's trouble. But he
manages to get out of it.
He really is a superb fellow, just an extraordinary guy.
He's married to a Hawaiian, a wonderful girl. And they have no
children, but she had children, and [laughter] they live in what
we call the Lange Grass Shack. And that house is something.
I am, in comparison with him, very conservative, very methodical.
I know just what I am doing. I never will be caught in a disad-
vantage compared with him, never let down my defenses compared
with him. He's always at a disadvantage, always.
Riess: Did he come out to California with you?
Lange: No, he came out some years later. He went to sea, and he went
Lange: around the world a couple of times in the merchant marine. This
was during the war, World War I, that he was at sea. And I
remember going down to the dock with Maynard to meet him
Maynard had never laid eyes on him and he came off the boat
and he'd taken off his quartermaster's uniform and he had on
a straw hat, too small, and he carried a birdcage, in which
there was no bird, and he had been in China. And I said,
"What did you bring us?" and he said, "There's nothing in China."
And that's what he brought. The birdcage and that straw hat.
Then he went to college here after a short interval,
but on and off he went to sea, came back, went to college,
worked up in the big timber driving a caterpillar tractor.
I remember we went up to see him in those destitute hillsides,
pulling that timber. What an ordeal! The hardest job I think
I've ever seen. Excepting, you know, the work of the man that
you see on the street that has this thing that jiggles when he
cuts the concrete [pneumatic drill], I wonder how a human being
can stand that job or the job that I saw Martin do up there.
But he's done many such things.
He went down to Boulder Dam and worked for the Six
Companies building the dam. I was thinking along in those days
that he ought to be doing more than all that hard, physical work
that took all that strength, and living the rough life that went
with it. A few years later I went down to the dam I happened to
Lange: be there and was driving across -and I saw a monument there to
the men who had built it. And I suddenly thought of him. I
hadn't quite realized, seen it, that way. I had thought he
ought to get out of that. But I remember something about the
way that monument looked, and I never reproached him again.
School and After School
I've sometimes wondered whether these things that we do, that
we think we do on our own, the directions that we take and the
choices of work, are not determined by something in the blood.
The older that I get the more I begin to think though 1 don't
dare say so in the presence of my more trained and intellectual
and scientific friends I think that there is some kind of
memory that the blood carries. But why is it that this thing's
scorned. It seems to be. There are certain drives that we have.
I had in my early years, before I was fully grown, a
great many things to meet, some very difficult, a variety of
experiences that a child shouldn't really meet alone. I was
aware that I had to meet them alone, and I did. Now I know
how much that has given me. For example of this: when I was
in the seventh and eighthgrade of elementary school I went to
Lange: school in the ghetto of New York City where I was the only
Gentile among 3,000 Jews, the only one. The reason that I
was in that school was that at that time my mother was
supporting the family. She had made of herself a librarian.
This was after a very difficult time. And she became the
breadwinner of the family. She was stationed in the New
York Public Library on East Broadway in New York, which is
way downtown, near Chatham Square.
Well, I was a child that she didn't want to leave all
day to my own devices. So I went to the library with her--
that became my day home and I went to school in that neigh-
borhood and after school I went to the library and I did my
Riess: But you weren't living in New York.
Lange: My home at that time again was Hoboken. We had gone back there
to live with my grandmother. We had to. My mother had to hold
things together; my father abandoned us. And so we had to live
with my grandmother and my mother had to support us all. She
earned fifty-five dollars a month. That souads like little, but
it wasn't out of line at that time. It would be like saying
now that she had to support a family on, maybe, two hundred
dollars a month. I mean it was hard, but it was possible.
Riess: How did she make of herself a librarian?
Lange: Before she was married to my father she had for about six months
Lange: been a librarian. She was a singer. And she took a library
Job before she was married in order to keep herself going, and
that gave her just enough. And then she boned up and took the
examination. It wasn't so hard, really.
However, that was the library, and it was there in the
sweatshop, pushcart, solid Jewish, honeycomb tenement district.
And that's where I went to school. So there I learned what it
is to be in the minority. I was a minority group of one.
Riess: With no warning. It hadn't been talked over with you.
Lange: Right. Oh, nothing was talked over with me. In fact there wasn't
any realization. You know, people don't realize how life is to
children. They think when they solve it themselves the kids
can go along.
But that was something that I had to do. It was hard
in some ways because I had always taken it for granted that I
was bright, and I was until then, one of those in school who
was reliable. "You never have to worry about her." I was too
quick. Well, when I got there, at P.S. 62, I fell from my perch
because I couldn't keep up with them. They were too smart for
me. And they were aggressively smart. And they were hungry
after knowledge and achievement and making, you know, fighting
their way up. Like their parents, this the children had. To
an outsider, it was a savage group because of this overwhelming
Riess: So maybe you had a new sense of inferiority as well as minority.
Lange: Well, I was unhappy there, with them. But I had to stay, and
I wasn't actively unhappy; but dully behind it all, I went through
it. Nobody knew how I was, what the color of my existence was,
but there I was. And I had to meet that competition.
Riess: Do you think that you were conscious right away of your minority
status? Or did some child make you aware of it?
Lange: No, no, no. They were all right to me. But I was an outsider.
And I didn't live there besides. Those schools didn't have the
social life that schools have now. This was a great, big
education factory, and there wasn't any social life there at all.
The kids after school just dispersed--where, I didn't know, but
I never set foot into any of these places. I had one little
friend, because she sat in front of me all throughout. I
can just see her curly hair, she looked like Little Bo Peep,
she was the littlest girl. And she was a kind of a friend.
Well, at any rate, I had those walks from the school to
the library, and they were rather long walks in all seasons of
the year, and I was always alone. I saw a very great deal. Then,
I spent the afternoon studying in the library, presumably. I
didn't study, I read all the books. All those books to n-ad' I
read them in what they called the staff room. Well, the staff
room had windows that looked out on and into tenements, and in
the spring and in the summer, until the winter, the windows were
Lange: open and I could look into all these lives. All of a tradition
and a race alien to myself, completely alien, but I watched.
And every year, never a September comes that I don't stop and
remember what I used to see in those tenements when they had
the Jewish holidays, the religious holidays. In those days
all the women wore schachtels, you know, the black wigs, and
the men wore beards, and little black hats, yamilkes. It hadn't
broken up. The generation I belonged to was one of the
generations that escaped out of that and went uptown to high
school. That was the beginning of the break. But the elementary
schools were down there. I saw this. I'm aware that I just
looked at everything. I can remember the smell of the cooking
too, the way they lived. Oh, I had good looks at that, but
never set foot myself. Something like a photographic observer.
I can see it.
Then add to that that there were two days a week when my
mother worked nights and I went homo alone. I went home
generally about five o'clock. Now the scenery changes, because
I had to walk from Chatham Square to the Christopher Street
Ferry, and that's a walk along the Bowery. And that Bowery
suddenly ended at City Hall. There I walked across that park
over to Barclay or Christopher Street where that was still
But there were three worlds there that I had a very
Lange: intimate acquaintance with, and that Bowery part (I remember
how afraid I was each time, never without fear), I thought
of it recently when I was in Asia, quite often, because in
Asia there are places where you have to look where you step
because the sidewalks are unspeakably filthy and you never
take it for granted where you walk. Well, on the Bowery I
knew how to step over drunken men. I had to do it, you know,
and I don't mean that the streets were littered with drunken
men, but it was a very common affair. I knew how to keep an
expression of face that would draw no attention, so no one
would look at me. I have used that my whole life in photo-
graphing. I can turn it on and off. If I don't want
anybody to see me I can make the kind of a face so eyes go
off me. Do you know what I mean? There's a self-protective
thing you can do. I learned that as a child in the Bowery. So
none of these drunks' eyes would light on me. I was never
obviously there. And you can see what equipment that was for
anyone who later found herself doing the kind of work I do,
or maybe it took me into it. I don't know. This was a
preparation, hard as it was, but it was a preparation.
Riess: Your connection with the three worlds was as an observer. You
didn't have anyone to talk to about these three worlds, or in
these three worlds.
Lange: No, not at all, which most children don't. I mean I don't say
Lange: that as a criticism of my family, who certainly loved me very
much. But very few people can associate with children,
especially growing children, in those half years. Oh, it's
Then also I was physically disabled, and no one who
hasn't lived the life of a semi-cripple knows how much that
means. I think it perhaps was the most important thing that
happened to me, and formed me, guided me, instructed me, helped
me, and humiliated me. All those things at once. I've never
gotten over it and I am aware of the force and the power of it.
I have a grandson who had a birth injury. I nearly broke down
at that time, because I knew. That was one of the most difficult
two weeks, before I saw that maybe he was going to be all right.
And everyone else was very brave. Everybody else. But I wasn't
brave. Not about that. I couldn't take it, because I knew.
Cripples know that about each other, perfectly well. When
I'm with someone that has a disability, we know. Especially
in childhood. When it comes later it's not the same, but if
you grow up with this thing . . .
Years afterwards when I was working, as I work now, with
people who are strangers to me, where I walk into situations
where I am very much an outsider, to be a crippled person, or a
disabled person, gives an immense advantage. People are kinder
to you. It puts you on a different level than if you go into
Lange: a situation whole and secure ... I can't say it well, but
do you know what I mean? Well this kind of thing, you see,
forms us. We all have those things that form us. They are
of what we are built; they are our architecture. And there's
much we don't know. I mean this is only a part of it. But
the explanation of a person's work sometimes hinges on just
a succession of incidents, and I think it's a very interesting
thing because those incidents dictate our responses.
You know, years later I found myself in San Francisco
in the portrait business, and it was a good business, I had
the cream of the trade. I was the person to whom you went if
you could afford it. And do you know who my customers were?
My customers were all the rich Jews of San Francisco, who
are a very special group. I mean I don't know of any city that
has just that element in its population, these very wealthy
progeny of early-day Jewish merchants. And they have been
really the since the war I think it's lessening the bulwark
of art, culture, everything. The great subscribers and supporters,
real supporters, not only in money but in time, effort, and so on.
And they have raised a very good crop of people. Well, it's odd,
isn't it, that I who was one in 3,000 Jews, as a child, with
very little actual contact with these Jews, should have as my
customers in San Francisco nine out of ten people of that
group, of whom I'm very, very fond. I honor and respect them.
Lange: And I think they are wonderful people, the San Francisco group.
But as I say, my lameness as a child and my acceptance,
finally, of my lameness truly opened gates for me.
Riess: To many people it does sort of opposite things. A very
strong backbone but a warped personality, denying help and
so on. This is often the picture.
Lange: Well, I may be that also, and not know it. I may carry such things.
I am giving you, of course, a very one-sided look. I could be.
I think I see occasionally places where I am that.
I remember someone once saying to me as a child--we were
looking out a window of a flat over the Hackensack Meadows and
there were washlines, permanent washlines, something like our
telephone lines. They're always there against the sky and sometimes
there's quite a combination of sound because all the washlines
make a sort of funny line and on washday on whole blocks you
could hear this rusty squeaking.
Well, at any rate, looking over to the flats where
there were yards in between, wooden fences, washlines, these
red brick buildings that are still there, looking out over to
the west, over the Hackensack Meadows, late in the afternoon,
I said to this person, "To me, that's beautiful." And this
person said--I was a child, I was fourteen then--this person
said, "To you, everything is beautiful." Well, that startled
me, bocausi' T hadn't realized it. It also helped me. I thought
Lange: everyone saw everything that I saw but didn't talk about it,
you see. But when this person said, "To you, everything's
beautiful," that made me aware that maybe I had eyesight, you
see. Curious, isn't it? I heard a woman say of me one time--
she was a woman whom I admired and she was brought into our
home as a guest; there had been great preparations for her
coming because she was a very superior person, and I was
introduced to her and then I left the room and then I heard
her say, "That child has a spiritual face." I'm now sixty-
five years old and I've never forgotten that.
Riess: These are the things that enable you to bear childhood.
Lange: They make you able to bear it, but they also give you direction.
If it comes from the right person at the right time it's like
putting a seed in the ground, if the soil is just right and it
is the right time of the year, and the seed is healthy; I mean,
there must have been something or else it wouldn't have made
that impression on me. I must have known that it was true. In
a way. I must have known that. And her saying that to me led
me a little bit I think in my own career to over-encourage
people because I want so much to do that for someone else.
I remember also as one of the things that meant a very
great deal to me that a man gave to me a bunch of lilacs on
my birthday and I sat on the Twenty-third Street crosstown car,
with those lilacs in my lap, jammed in with people, on my birth-
Lange: day, sitting there, feeling so wonderful. I can see myself.
Do you see yourself plainly at all when you remember your
childhood? I always see. I can remember everything. I
can hear the sounds of the horse-drawn crosstown. There were
no trolleys and no buses. And it was under the Elevated. I
remember the darkness and the light under the Elevated and
the cross town car. I sat there with these lilacs in one of
the sharp instants of realization of the moment. And the
flowers all my life I don't think I did get over it. I
don't think I did. I am a passionate lover of flowers. And
that's the moment that did it. Curious? And I had a straw
I was driving home with one of my little granddaughters,
my Leslie, from San Francisco the other day and she likes,
as all children do, to give the man the money at the toll gate.
She gave this colored man the money and he said, "Thank you,
Princess." And she said, "Why did he call me Princess?"
I said, "I don't really know. Maybe he thought you were
She said, "What made him think I was a princess?"
I said, "I don't know."
And she was very quiet. Then all of a sudden she shrieked,
"I know what it was. It was this!" And she had a little edge of
white lace on the edge of her dress, eyelet, common eyelet,
Lange: embroidered, you know. "It was this!" If you could see the
face this child has. Anyone would call her Princess. That
she didn't know. But it was that little bit of white lace,
that's why she was "Princess."
But maybe she'll remember that. I know that when she
got home she got all dressed up in everything she could find
to be a princess. Maybe she'll remember. I was just a little
bit older; I think I was about ten then. And the man who gave
it to me was my granduncle. And that was one of the sharp
things that pushed me in the direction of my later interests.
All is bound together.
And then there are years when I don't remember much.
Nothing. You see, at about thirteen things change very much for
a girl. From thirteen to oh, on through--! was fighting the
world then. I didn't have what it took to enjoy life very much.
But of course, there are some memories...
I remember seeing the hands of Stokowski. A young
Russian, landed in New York, he got a job conducting a choir
at a church. Though my people weren't churchgoing people, my
mother liked music, so this afternoon, on a Sunday afternoon,
she took me. And here was a man conducting some oratorio. I
couldn't see the man; I could just see the hands. Those hands of
that man, ah, that I remember. Years later I read about his hands
and I knew who he was I [Laughter] It could be no one but those
Lange: hands that I saw on that winter afternoon there.
And I remember spending as much time as I could neglecting
what I should be doing I didn't study welllooking at pictures.
I looked and looked and looked at pictures. That I used to
Riess: You used to go places where there were photographs?
Lange: Yes. Well, where there were all kinds of pictures. My love of
pictures is not limited to photographs. I love visual represen-
tation of all kinds, in all media, for all purposes. I find
beautiful things in advertisments. Oh I found one today, I'd
like to show it to you. I think it's so lovely.
But I'd start at that. I was a solitary. I became a
sort of a solitary through those years.
Riess: Was your grandmother still alive, to guide you, or to be helpful?
Lange: No, no. I was too quarrelsome with her through those years. She
was messy and disorderly, and oh, she drank too much. And I
fled. I couldn't take those things. But we lived then in
Englewood and she was with us and died there in early 1914.
Riess: Had you been going to school in this ghetto area?
Lange: No, I only went there in the seventh and eighth grades, and then
I went to Wadleigh High School. That's uptown New York.
Everybody in that ghetto school went uptown to high school,
those who went to high school. Not everybody went to high
Lange: school in those days. When I went uptown that whole pattern
broke. I mean to say that I was no longer the only Gentile.
Wadleigh High School was way uptown and it was a girls' high
school. Miserable high school. When I think now what
important years those are and what could have been done for
me because I loved books and I could read and I could get
things fast--that wasn't done!
Oh, there was a woman who was interested in Yeats.
And I got that. And there was a physics teacher there who was
the first scientist that I had met, a good, clean-cut brain,
who was tremendously interested in elementary physics. That
was something. And I liked this woman. Her name was Martha
Brluere. Her brother she came from an illustrious family--
was in New York City politics. He was of the reform liberal
movement and his name was in the paper every day. I was very
proud of her brother and her, and I kind of in my mind adopted
these people because I liked them. This woman, who was so
principled in her work, did an extraordinary thing for me: she
upgraded a paper so that I wouldn't fail, because I had done so
dreadfully on an examination where I knew so much better, which
would have meant my failing that course. And in my presence
she went over that paper and upgraded it. She deliberately
gave me what I had no business to get, in order to help me
out, which I knew at the time was completely undermining her
Lange: principles. But she did it out of some kind of feeling for me.
I don't know what it was exactly but I've always thought of
that with the greatest respect. You'd think maybe the opposite;
you'd think, well nobody should do that, she should have
taught me what's right is right, especially in science. She
did the other thing. I've always thought it was marvelous of
Riess: Did she have a good effect on you? Did you study physics then?
Lange: That was the end of it, as far as I was concerned. I think
this was in order to help me graduate. I know it was critical.
She knew I wouldn't tell anyone, and I didn't tell anyone, but
I've always thought of her with love and affection and really,
several times, have myself done things in my life for the
undeserving. [Laughter] And been a little wooly-headed.
Riess: Why were you so bad about studying?
Lange: No direction, and I wasn't with the right people. I wasn't in
the right environment and I was rebelling against it, or trying
to find a way out of it. And that's where my energies were
going. And I had personal problems to solve. And these
things... Going to school was just one problem. In fact,
half the time I wasn't there.
Riess: You weren't at home either?
Lange: I wasn't home either, no. I was bumming around. I don't mean
bumming in any way that was morally objectionable, but I just
Lange: would get so far on the route to school and then I'd turn
around and walk around the streets and I'd look at pictures.
I remember spring days in Central Park. I remember walking
from 108th Street to the Battery one spring daywonderful
day it was. Alone. I had a friend who went with me sometimes,
but half the time I was alone. I'd carry the books. I never
told them I didn't go to school. They didn't know I was a
truant. But it wasn't unproductive truancy, if you know what
I mean. It wasn't being on the bum, really. As far as the
school was concerned it was, and I carried a heavy conscience
load. But I know that city. I know cities. And I'm not
afraid to be alone. I have no fear of cities, with camera
or without, any hour of the day or night. Those things form
Riess: How did you find this fearlessness?
Lange: I don't know. It's like making all parts of the world your
natural element, through experience and through no alternatives
for you. How can you say that? For most people it would mean
having to break down the protections. I didn't have them; I
wasn't being taken care of; I was essentially neglected, thank
God.' But very neglected! Not deprived of love, but they
just didn't know where I was and not "how" I was living but
"where" I was living.
You know, with all the reading I've done since, I realize
Lange: how enriched I am through having been on the loose in ray formative
years, how much--this may sound very conceited and maybe it
is but I have known all my life so many things that people,
my contemporaries who have been "regulars" and always done what
they should do and have gone down the regular roads, followed
the channels, been proper, made the grades, lost. Some of the
things that have been vitally important to me, in fact, guided
me. I used it all. That's what I'm trying to say. I've been
fortunate that I've been able to use it all. I think of myself
in those days with a good deal of pity in a way; I was a lost
kid. But something guided me, something guided me through
Then, after high school, I was faced with, "Well, what
are you going to do? You have to have..." I said, "I want
to be a photographer." I said that to my mother in 1914, and my
mother said, "You have to have something to fall back on." She
hadn't any confidence in this. (Many years later I heard myself
saying to one of my daughters, "You have to have something to
fall back on." What a shock it was to hear myself say it! But
I heard my mother's voice saying that.) I didn't want anything
to fall back on; I knew it was dangerous to have something
to fall back on.
But I had announced that I wanted to be a photographer, and
I had no camera and I'd never made a picture. My relatives, as
Lange: I've mentioned, provided the money and insisted that I go to
school, to Barnard.
New York Studio Experience
Lange: But in those years I got a camera and I spent every spare
moment that I could working in photographers' studios in New
York, nights and Saturdays and Sundays.
Riess: While you were going to Barnard.
Lange: To Barnard to learn how you do this, how you earn a living-.
And I had many looks in to how you become a photographer.
And then I made a friend. I went to get a job with Arnold
Genthe. And I did get a job. That was a look into a world I hadn't
seen; that was a new one to me. That was a world well, how can
you say it--a world of privilege, maybe something like that,
command of what seemed to me the most miraculous kind of living,
very luxurious, everything of the highest expression. A world
of Oriental art was in that place.
Arnold Genthe was an unconscionable old goat in that he
seduced everyone who came in the place. Yes, he was a real
rou, a real roue. But what I found out when I worked for him
was that this man was very properly a photographer of women because
Lange: he really loved them. I found out something there: that you
can photograph what you are really involved with. Now his
seduction of women was only part. He wasn't at all a vulgar
man; he loved women. He understood them. He could make the
plainest woman an illuminated woman. I watched him do it,
right and left, and theyall fell for it.
However, the point is that it has something to do with
the life of an artist. He was an artist, a real one, in a
narrow way, but it was a deep trench. And I learned that
Riess: And his life an art.
Lange: Wherever he went. He was in love with the kind of a life he
lived, he was in love with himself as a human, and his effect
on other people. He was a creative person. He did the first
color photography I ever saw and loved color as he loved women.
The same kind of color. Nothing hard, analytical, nothing
disciplined in that man. Everything was warm and beautiful and
when it wasn't, he wasn't there.
Well, that was quite a place for me to work.
Riess: What were you doing for him?
Lange: Well, there were three women, three girls. I was the youngest
and then there were two others. One of them was the receptionist
but she wasn't there half the time. So I would do that sometimes
and would answer the telephone. I would make the proofs. I
Lange: would spot the pictures.
Riess: What is "spotting a picture"?
Lange: Oh, there are dust flecks, white spots, that you cover with
India ink. And I learned a little retouching there, which
was done extensively at that time, on glass plate. And
that's where you would slightly modify a feature--you could
do it with an etching knife--and you filled it in. It's
still done, but not as it was done then. And I would mount the
pictures. And I would say he wasn't there when he was there
[laughter], I got to know all the women he wanted to see and
which ones he didn't and where he was.
The first time I went in there he looked at me and he
said, "I wish you'd take those cheap red beads off. They're
not any good." The first thing. And I can see them now.
They were red cut glass beads. I thought they were nice. I
took them off, and I remember that so well. He was absolutely
right about those beads.
Riess: Most young girls would weep at that point!
Lange: Not I. Because I knew. Why, my grandmother had taught me
better than that. I never wore any costume jewelry, not
after those red beads [laughter], not that it's all bad,
you know. It was just the wrong thing.
I learned a good deal there, though I didn't learn
photography really, because he worked within a very limited
Lange: technique. He worked under a certain battery of lights, certain
very controlled conditions. His best things had been completed
when I was there, his dancers, his Isadora Duncans, the things
he did in Greece. They were past. He was there working within
a good commercial formula and making a lot of money at the
Riess: How did Arnold Genthe's tutelage in the ways of life affect
Lange: Well, it didn't hurt me. I mean to say I was not injured. Now,
again I must say I was more fascinated than I was a participant.
Only once did he upset me personally, and that horrified me. But
for some reason or other I got over it quickly, and I was
devoted to him. I think I believed in his sense of beauty.
I think that's what saw that thing through. Years later he
was in San Francisco, a year or so before he died, and he tele-
phoned and I went over to see him. And we had the finest time.
He was still the same self-indulgent old roueJ But, somehow
or other... Well, you know they use the word glamour a lot
now. He had the real thing. He was a validly romantic character.
And this young girl we're speaking of sensed that his life was
valid and had love in it. And that saved it.
Riess: How did you come to Genthe?
Lange: I just went and asked for a job.
Riess: I've read that Genthe gave you your first camera.
Lange: I remember the camera he gave me, and the camera that I had
before that is kind of foggy in my mind. Did I or didn't
I have one?
I also worked for about six months for a very well-
known Armenian studio where I learned a good deal about commercial
trade. I did telephone solicitation for them, and retouching, and
printing. He was a strange person; Kazanjian was his name, and
he taught me all of that.
When I first went there I was one of a battery of
telephone girls: "Good morning, Mrs. DuPont, this is the Kazanjian
Studios calling. Mr. Kazanjian is JK> interested in making a
portrait of you and your son together, and we will be in Baltimore
on Saturday morning and is there any possibility if you have any
time over the ..." That's what it was.
Oh, I was fascinated. I would have found it hard to
do if I had been stuck with it. But I was looking into it,
Riess: And it worked.
Lange: Yes, and I would see the pictures go through and I would see
what happened. This was a performance; it was like a big show
to me. I could see those jobs from the beginning to the end,
the devices, and what people wanted and what was bad. The
DuPont family were staunch supporters of the studio and I
remember the photographs of the mother, the matriarch of that
Lange: family, Mrs. DuPont, surrounded by her grandchildren. I
retouched those photographs. And she had, open on her lap,
the telephone book* [Laughter] It was so sharp that you
could read the names. Well, Kazan jian charged $200 the
dozen and they ordered dozens of pictures of Mrs. Dupont
with the children and telephone book, opened like a family
BibleJ And I had to, finally, when I called Kazanjian's
attention to what this was, do all the changing of this so
that you couldn't read it. Those were the ways I learned.
When I got going myself I knew a good deal about the portrait
business as a trade.
Then there was another person from whom I was learning
simultaneously, in a different direction. With Kazanjian I
learned the trade. With Genthe I was learning other things.
And then I went and worked for a person, also on Fifth Avenue,
who taught me technique and precipitated me into being an
Riess: An operator?
Lange: The taker of the pictures. Arnold Genthe had no operator. He was
a photographer. Kazanjian had a lot of operators. Spencer-
Beatty, the woman who had this business, lost her operator
while I was there and was in a very critical financial situation.
The sheriff was after her. She had a commission to do the Irving
Brokaw family, and no operator, so she sent me, with an 8x10
Lange: camera, out of sheer desperation. She couldn't afford to lose
this comnission. I did that, and it was all right.
Riess: Why wouldn't she go?
Lange: She didn't know how* It was her own business but she always
employed operators. She didn't know anything at all about
how to work the camera.
That was the first big job I ever did and I was certainly
not prepared for it. It was sheer luck and maybe gall.
But I had enough insight, you see, by that time, to know
how professionals behaved on these jobs and what people wanted
and didn't want, wkat was acceptable, what was the commercial
Riess: And vere you at ease with these people?
Lange: I don't think I was that day. I was scared to death for
Spencer-Beatty's sake because I knew she had to have that
three or four hundred dollars, not scared of the people, but
that I wouldn't be able to do the pictures that would be
acceptable to them hard-boiled pictures, really formal,
conventional portrait groups. I don't know how old I was
but I was certainly not ready to do that. With a great big
8x10 camera. They sent a car down there with a driver and
a footman. And there I was, this obscure little piece, scared
to death but I did it.
And then she sent me, maybe a few weeks later I'd
Lange: almost forgotten this--she sent me to photograph a great
actor after his performance, and it was Sir Herbert
Beerbohm Tree. I photographed him in the role of Cardinal
Richelieu. It was the first time that I did anything
like that. I'd never been in a theater behind the stage
and I've often thought he knew it, because he was so jolly
with me, and gave me so much time. He was magnificent.
You couldn't miss really. And the role had to do with an
orangc>--there's the orange again--in cogitating he played
with this orange, wearing these magnificent cardinal's
robes. He was very patient with me and it made a very good
picture. Very good for Mrs. Beatty.
Riess: She kept you going as an operator there?
Lange: Yes, and I kept her going! [Laughter] I was earning about
fifteen dollars a week with Genthe and I worked every after-
noon and night. And with Spencer-Beatty I made about twelve
dollars a week, Saturdays and Sundays and whenever she had
to have me. The printing she farmed out; she farmed the
retouching out, too, to somebody else. It was that kind of
a thing. And I was the operator.
Riess: Were you doing this at the same time you were working for Genthe?
Lange: No. Another time. I don't remember why I stopped with Genthe.
I know I wanted to get all kinds of experience.
Riess: Was your family resigned to you being a photographer by now?
Lange: Yes. My family was small then. At that time it was my
mother, my brother, and my Aunt Caroline. My mother was
launched in her work in Hudson County, New Jersey, where she
was assistant to the judge in the juvenile court. The
financial stresses were not bad then, and my brother was
half-grown. I was able to be on my own, if I could swing
it. And I guess the first shocks of my being so independent
and impractical were pretty well accepted. There was some
precedent in the family, too, for that. But I didn't feel
that I was being criticized or that I was in disfavor at
that time. I'd made some fair photographs and I was surer.
I've never not been sure that I was a photographer, any more
than you would not be sure that you were yourself! I was a
photographer--getting to be a photographer, or wanting to
be a photographer, or beginning- -but some phase of photographer
I've always been.
Riess: You studied with Clarence White, didn't you?
Lange: Yes. I found my way into a seminar that he was giving. I
don't know just how I found my way into that thing, probably
the way I found my way into all the others. But his name, of
Lange: course, was well known to me by that time, and he stood for
a certain kind of a photograph that no one else has produced.
He had an unmistakable--style isn't the word exactly, area is
a better word--an area that was his, in which he moved with
great surety and skill. I'd say that he had a claim to it,
a kind of stake to this world where there was a good deal of
poetry and luminosity and a fine sense of the human figure.
If you could liken musically the qualities of different
producers of photographs, you'd say his were on the "flute"
side of things.
Well, I didn't know what kind of a man he was, and I
went to that seminar--this was at Columbia University-and
it was in the wintertime, and the whole thing has a kind of
an atmosphere, something very separate and distinct. It had
no relationship with anything else excepting that. That
dreary schoolroom where this thing was, late in the afternoon,
in the winter. And I've always hated schoolrooms and I've
always hated long corridors of school buildings. To this
day I don't like them. I hate change of classes. I hate
those halls and those sounds. At any rate, this was later
in the afternoon so there were no changes of classes, but they
were the same kind of educational halls. And then you went into
Here was a kind of a young-old man who had a very
Lange: separate quality, and the importance of him to me is that I
discovered a very extraordinary teacher. Why he was extraor-
dinary has puzzled me ever since because he didn't do any-
thing. He was an inarticulate man, almost dumb, and he'd
hesitate, he'd fumble. He was very gentle and had a very
sweet aura, and everything he'd start to say was, "Well,
you know ... to be sure. To be sure* that's quite
right ... To be sure, that's quite right. That's
all I remember him ever saying. He had these students
and he gave them an assignment, and they were supposed to
have completed this assignment and bring it in. The rest of
them did; I never did, because I never did assignments
anyway. The assignment was generally to go out to a
certain place oh, something like a Sather Gate where there
would be a wrought-iron gate, nothing better than that,
something that you'd never really look at, just be kind of
aware of some curly-cues there, an undistinguished thing
and photograph that thing! Now coming from Clarence White
that was such a peculiar business. He never would photograph
that gate; it was far divorced fron| anything that he ever
did! Yet it was close by, and it was handy, so he sent these
students there. They were not all young. They were middle-
aged and rather earnest people. Maybe there were a dozen,
maybe only eight. Well, I went out and looked at that gate,
Lange: and I decided there was no use my photographing that gate,
none at all. Oh, I was aware, dimly, that there was some kind
of an underlying wisdom in the man that would choose this
utterly banal thing around which, or through which, he could
guide them instead of telling them to photograph more
flowery or more romantic things.
Riess: Would he have been pleased if one of his students returned
with a person prominent in the picture, the gate subordinated?
Lange: He would and did accept everything. He was most uncritical.
He always saw the print in relation to the person and then
he would start to stammer and writhe around. But the point
is that he gave everyone some feeling of encouragement in
some peculiar way. You walked into that dreary room knowing
that something was going to happen. Now what happened I don't
know, but you never forgot it. I can hear his voice still.
The man was a good teacher, a great teacher, and I
can still occasionally think, "I wish he were around. I'd
like to show him this." Isn't that odd, that that stays with
you? I don't think he mentioned technique once, how it's
done, or shortcuts, or photographic manipulations. It was
to him a natural instrument and I suppose he approached it
something like a musical instrument which you do the best
you can with when it's in your hands. And he encouraged
along a little bit, nudged here and there. Peculiar, isn't it.
Lange: Made me wonder about what makes a good teacher ever since,
because he was one. And he had influence, and his work had
influence. It's endured many, many years. This little,
gentle, inarticulate man. Curious.
Riess: Since you weren't doing assignments, how would he teach and
encourage you directly?
Lange: Oh, I was just there.
Riess: You didn't bring things in?
Lange: I didn't bring things in, but he never minded. That was
another thing, he never minded. I was always--oh, for a long,
long time not an active participant. I was immensely curious,
and interested, even eager, to find out as much as I could
about everything that I could. But I always felt and acted
as though I was an outsider, a little removed. I never was
in the middle of any group.
Riess: Did it bother you then?
Lange: I don't think so.
At any rate, this bumbling fellow, this Clarence White--
see that Korean bowl there, that white thing [rough, large,
primary amphora shape, assyraetrical] , that's like him, what he
did a certain chastity about him. He was a man of very
great tenderness, and very little passion. He absolutely knew,
you know, when it was beautiful. He photographed it that way
Riess: Can you define what his picture-taking area was?
Lange: I remember two things that flash in my mind. One of them is
a woman's figure photographed in his studio on Twenty-third
Street which I later saw a couple of times, and there was
light coming in from the window and the whole thing was
enveloped in a very delicate restrained light. It was
through a value range of pearly grays. That's what he did.
He liked those very much. And he could surround figures with
light. The figures were generally in postures, but they were
delicate and refined postures.
And the other photograph that I think of is women
picking apples under a tree. It was a grayish day; I don't
remember the sun shining in this picture; I don't remember
shadows around those figures. They were the same kind of
women. They were relatives, I think, sisters, cousins, or
wife, or something. They weren't pretty-girl women.
Riess: He wanted figures, rather than faces?
Lange: Figures with a flow. He made some portraits too, but they
were generally very gentle faces, and very quietly done.
It was before the days of artificial light, which he would
never have used anyway, and he used uncorrected lenses by
choice, which gave a certain lack of sharp definition.
Riess: This is what is called soft-focus lens?
Lange: It's what they call soft-focus. He employed it, and in fact I
Lange: think he was the first one. But, I don't think he one day
made up his mind he was going to work that way; he was just
the kind of a fellow who would be in it before he knew it.
You know what I'm saying? This was a man who lived a kind of
an unconscious, instinctive, photographic life. He didn't
ever seem to know exactly that he knew where he was going,
but he was always in it.
Riess: He wouldn't be able to tell you that he used such and such a
lens opening and that this was how he achieved this picture.
Lange: No, no. He'd just say, "Well, to be sure, now you have to
..." And he'd be off! But he was a fine teacher.
Riess: Do you think he saw photography as striving to be fine art?
Lange: He was a friend of Stieglitz, and I think he was rather on
the art side of things. He certainly was not on the utilitarian
side. He was a professional photographer but he wasn't an
active commercial photographer, developing new techniques
and applying them in a commercial product. I think you'd
have a hard time to get him to make a portrait of you, you
know. 1 don't know how he got along. He was on the art side
of it, and impractical. And I think his friends were on the
art side of things.
Riess: Was he attached to Columbia?
tange: Yes, and this went on for three or four years. He died not long
Lange: Well, you know, there were great commercial figures of
that day. There was Baron de Meyer who was doing all the
fashion photographs and the stage photographs for Vogue and
Vanity Fair. Oh, there were many Paul Outerbridge--sorae of
them were Clarence White's students. Actually there were quite
a lot of them that had had association with him.
Riess: Did he have students around him in a school, apart from these
seminars you attended?
Lange: I think so. I think he eked out a living doing it. I don't
really know about that.
Then I do know that one of his students, Karl Struss,
who later occupied his studio on Twenty-third Street and
employed the same light that Clarence White had worked with,
made a photograph much more brilliant and much more emphatic
than Clarence White's ever were. He was a very fine photog-
rapher; he did things unparalleled, I think, of sun on water,
using soft-focus lenses. He developed a lens which he
marketed called the Struss Lens, an uncorrected, undefined
lens, a beauty if you got a good one. But he only made a
few good ones. He graduated from that into Hollywood, and he
became one of the top cinamatographers. I think he's retired
now, but for many years he did big films. I don't know what
studio; it was one of the top ones. And I never saw any
carry-ovc-r in his work, excepting that he was an awfully fine
Lange: fellow and did less trash than most. In those days he was
really photographing that water beautifully, just beautifully,
with a certain Clarence White feel to it.
Otherwise I don't know people whose work looks like
Clarence White's, which, of course, is a great recommendation
to him as a teacher, validates what I said, that a student's
work didn't look like his. But he touched lives. And all
that I've said of him is probably wrapped up in that phrase.
He had an uncanny gift of touching people's lives, and they
didn't forget it.
More Teachers "The Lovable Hacks"
Riess: When you finished your schooling with Clarence White, did you
start your own photography business?
Lange: No, I didn't have any business. I worked, but I didn't have a studio;
I didn't have a place of business. I photographed, and I got
myself equipment to photograph with. I got myself a big camera;
I got myself two lenses. And I worked day and night. Day and
night. I have had periods when I have worked, really worked.
That was one of them. I learned darkroom techniques.
Many of the experiences I have had have run along parallel.
Langc: At the same time that I was with Genthe working Saturdays and
some afternoons and some nights I met an Itinerant photographer,
one who came to the door. You know, I've said to Paul,
"People are always asking me, 'Where did you learn your photog-
raphy?" And it was only last summer that it came to me all
of a sudden the procession of teachers that I've had who were
lovable old hacks. They really taught it to me. I can think
of five to whom I am really deeply indebted, who put themselves
way out. And they're apt, these characters that you meet,
to kind of get buried in the warp and woof of your life. You
forget them as you forget, I think very often, people to whom
you're grateful, unimportant people from everyone else's point
of view, like this itinerant; and there was a man by the name
of Lou Tyler, who came later, who was really a somebody; and
Charles H. Davis, who was a broken-down fellow who'd had a
great theatrical career in photography; and then there was a
fellow by the name of Percy who used to sign his prints,
"Percy Neymann, Ph.D." [laughter], a paint chemist who helped
Well, this one, this itinerant, came to the door once
in my mother's house--we were living in Englewood--and he had
his samples under his arm. These samples were not very much
better than what you'd expect. You know the kind: "Well,
you can have a dozen of these for two and a half in this kind
Lange: of an easel mount." And he made others that were glossy with
a deckle edge--postcard variety--that were his cheapest number.
He had the whole range, up to big portraits with that chromo
look, with a little color. The color was a little more tasteful
than most, but not very much.
Well, I found out this fellow had no darkroom and a
week later he was ensconced in a little outbuilding that was
in back of our house, once a chicken coop, which he made over
into a darkroom. I learned a lot about how you build a darkroom
and what you have to have, and I helped him block the light out;
we had to clean it and we had to get it ready for him. When
he unpacked his stuff I discovered he had been all over Europe,
this old fellow, and he had a much better, much richer back-
ground than I had expected; I met his wife, who was a kind of
"citizen of the world," [laughter], an international figure
and very proud of the three years they had lived in Italy and
so on. All this you would never guess of this itinerant, whom
I got to know very well. He was very patient and he helped
me develop my negatives and taught me many things, old-
fashioned techniques they were.
I remember he used to set up his wet negatives in
Italian folding negative racks, drying racks. I'd never seen
any like that, or heard of them. And he gave me one. For
years I had that rack and I used that rack until glass plates
Lange: went out. I was very fond of it. I seem to collect things
from people that became more to me than actually the real thing
was. That Italian drying rack always meant that whole episode
to me. I don't know how long back that was, no idea of the time,
but I do know that he helped me and that when I did get that
ej 1 x 8i view camera which I brought here with me, I knew
how to operate it. I'd learned that in a lot of places.
Riess: When did you come in contact with the four others?
Lange: Oh, Charles H. Davis I met just before I came here, the winter
before. Charles H. Davis photographed opera singers (he
did all the Metropolitan Opera singers) and he did people
of fashion, and his photographs were very perfect and
completely empty! But he made a great thing of it. He had
a studio in New York and was very successful and he made
a lot of money and had a big home on Seventy-eighth Street.
I remember his telling me I knew him after his successes how
after he'd been "under the lights" all day (that was his
expression for photographing in the studio), after he'd been
"under the lights" all day, he'd go home at night and the first
thing he'd do would be to go from floor to floor and turn on
every light in the house. He was a fellow with a good deal
of self, well, more than self-confidence, he was prideful,
And what happened to him, I don't know. It had to do
Lange: with his third or fourth wife suing him for something or
other. At any rate, she took everything from him, including
the studio, lock, stock, and barrel, and left him high and
dry. He found himself a little diggings downtown, over a
saloon, where I knew him. I can still remember the smell
of the beer coming up through the floor. And his head dark-
room man, Charlie, went with him, and he and Charlie tried
to start all over again. In between there something awful
had happened to him, what I don't know, but his work was
Charles H. Davis 1 great competitor, incidentally, had
been Napoleon Sarony [d. 1896]. You see photographs often
with an old studio name on them, a kind of writing in script,
well Sarony did that and Sarony too was "the official photog-
rapher" of all the stage and the opera and the concert people.
How'd I ever meet him? I don't remember. I became
a kind of a pet of his. And he demonstrated to me how you
"pose the model." Well, I had never been in a place where
they posed the model.
Riess: Genthe didn't.
"Showman and picturesque figure, Sarony printed his
flowing signature in red ink on every size photograph that left
his gallery, and across the facade of the five-story structure
he painted his name in huge script." From The Picture History
of Photography by Peter Pollack. Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New
York, 1958, page 240.
Lange: No. When you "pose the model" the head is placed, and then you
hold it, and then each finger is positioned. The fingers
were very important to him, and he said, "The knees are the
eyes of the body," so your knees and your fingers, and your
head, were all posed and then he would induce the atmosphere,
and then he'd photograph. Then he would start with the next
one! And he taught me this. He used to love to put on the
gramophone, records from the opera. And I remember I learned
to like "Pagliacci" in those sessions, because he loved it.
Riess: All this atmosphere, above the saloon?
Lange: He took a floor above the saloon. They used to have family
entrances to saloons, and he took over the family entrance
to the saloon, barred it off so that he had an entrance, and he
had this whole- floor whore hr liad--with a good deal of stylc--
his laboratory, and all his drapes, and all his leftover grandeur,
and he and Charlie. And once in a while he would get a commission,
sometimes from people for whom he had worked in earlier days
those were great days--and he used to have to carry it off. He
did, too. He wore a toupee. And he had neat, small feet, and
a certain physical elegance about him. He wore a double-breasted
gray vest, and when he had one of these things coming on, these
sessions that meant a very great deal, he would pull himself
all together. He didn't drink; he wasn't above the saloon on
account of the liquor! But the atmosphere was certainly something
Lange: that he had to overcome. And now that I think back on it
I would say it was--not tragic, I reserve the word tragic
but it was heartbreaking to see.
Well, I became a sort of pet of his; he was very lonely,
and he used to take me out to dinner at night, always to the
same place, the Lion D'Or, where he would order a very fine
dinner and sometimes some of his theater people and his opera
people would be there and then I saw how he carried it off. I
could see. He was an older man. My mother was fond of him.
Sometimes he'd take her out occasionally. He used to like her
too. But he liked me very much, though he had no faith in me
as a photographer; probably he felt that I didn't like the kind
of photography that he did. I remember his saying to me,
"You don't know what it is to make a good negative^" Since
then I've said that too, to some people who've come to me with
Riess: Why would you say that rather than, "You don't know how to make
a good picture, or a good photograph"?
Lange: What you have in your negative is transmitted to your print and
if you have to do a lot of things in between, wouldn't it be
much better to make the negative good in the first place?
But Charles H. Davis' idea of a good negative I've never
been able to find out. Everything was galvanized into the
negative, you see, everything. It was really a hard-boiled
Lange: commercial product, but he loved it, really adored it.
Riess: Did people like being posed this way?
Lange: Well, I think they thought they were getting much more for their
money than people who nowadays are photographed without knowing
itl Now it seems too easy! If he would spend two hours and
work with every fold--it was a time when they had drapes, when
the photographer had the paraphernalia and the tulle and the
elaborate backgrounds and the carved furniture, the whole
business the results all looked alike, but he didn't think
so. He taught me some things in reverse. I learned the trade,
you see, through many people. I guess I was sort of a sponge
in some respects, but I was able to learn from such diverse
people and though it may seem that I'm criticizing, belittling
them, or ridiculing themthere's a certain amount of comedy
in all of this I really don't.
If you want to be a photographer now, there are many
professional schools you can go to and learn the process from
beginning to end, and the application of the process. I
really invented my own photographic schooling as I went along,
stumbled into most of it, but I must have been going after it
all the time or it wouldn't have come to me.
Riess: What were your early photographs like?
Lange: You know, Steichcn has asked me for them, many times. My family
destroyed them. When I left home there was a whole big cupboard
Lange: that had all these boxes with these names on them people and
things I had done. And I left them there and I never saw them
again. It was years before I went east again, maybe eight
years, and in the meanwhile they went from that cupboard to the
basement and then they would move to the basement of an
apartment house, and then they went to the basement of another
apartment house, and then you know how things go. I mentioned
once before that my mother threw something else away, the
lithographic stone, but she also threw the negatives away.
My grandmother- -who I told you was a very fine dress-
maker, irascible but good had a walnut-topped oval table that
she worked on. Do you know what a pattern wheel is? She
used to cut her own patterns, and there was a little tool,
a pattern wheel, which she used to cut them out. It made little
prickles. And this entire walnut-topped table was one map of
these things, something like a modern design, and I used to
like that table, being myself somewhat of a workman. I like
the processes of work. I like making a package. And I like
doing things where when you're finished there's something that's
there, that exists, you know. I loved that table. But my
mother threw it away. And my negatives went the same way.
She didn't attach importance to them, or perhaps she did. To
me, now, I would like to look at them.
You ask what they were like: they were almost all portraits
Lange: or attempts to make a photograph of somebody. They were very
uneven. I made one of a granduncle of mine, I remember, that
I would like to see again. That's the only one that really
sticks in my mind. I've forgotten the people even that I did,
those that I did independently. But that one of my grand-
uncle I would like to see again. I photographed my own family,
I photographed some friends, and I photographed people whom
we- knew, and then children. It was a very restricted range
of pi-op U- because I was just trying it out and terrified to
develop it. Terror had I failed, the darkroom terrors. Very
much depended on it. Those darkroom terrors, they still remain.
It still is a gambler's game, photography. I have a streak
of that gambler. Unless you work within a formulai
Riess: You expect a lot of each picture.
Lange: Everything. Everything. Expecially when we used bigger plates,
and every one was deliberate, and then you went to the next one.
Now, with 35 millimeter most people reckon by the yard. "There
surely will be something," you know, "there surely will be
something." But then you stood in a different relationship
to your camera. It was one, two, three. Here's the camera,
and in your hand you had the bulb, and you held your breath
and opened and closed that lens. A time exposure. A very good
way to make a portrait. We'll be coming back to it.
Lange: Well, because it calls for different and I think more deliberate
responses to the subject. For one thing, no subject can hold
anything that is false for them for long. It can't be done.
You can try, but it's ghastly. So you have to wait until
certain decisions are made by the subject what he's going
to give to the camera, which is a very important decision; and
the photographer what he's going to choose to take. It is a
much longer inner process than putting the camera between
you and the subject and, as I say, reeling them off by the
yard in every imaginable aspect, and all made between the
second, or between the split sections of the seconds. That is
much more electric and nervous; it never quite arrives at the
place; it's always on the way to something. That isn't always
so, of course, many people handle the 35 millimeter well.
They grow up with it and they use it for many years and they
learn to employ that instrument.
But the bigger camera with the lengthier exposures gave
us a foundation that there's a good deal of scrambling around
for these- clays, a good deal. You look in the camera annuals and
you'll know it. Everything has fallen in between, hasn't quite
arrived, isn't quite achieved. Look at the old Camera photographs,
Hill, Julia Margaret Cameron, whose recordings of those human
beings you can look at and into. Well, that's what we get.
Lange: We also had a different kind of photographic emulsion in those
days. While I don't say that what we have now is inferior, I
do say that things have been lost and I think we are going to
retrace our steps, and should. Some people should. Everyone
should not try to work with the miniature fast cameras and
the fast films emphasis put in every part of the performance
on speed. I was just reading some new development factors
and figures today that have to do with a new film. And the
great advantage of the film is that it develops in five minutes
while the film that it supplants took seven minutes' And people
take that seriously]
Riess: Maybe it would be useful in newspaper photography.
Lange: Well, even so. And those who work in the darkroom all day
in a big plant would get a hundred more rolls of film through
at the end of the day, but at some sacrifice. The entire
thing is gauged to speed. A young printer who I had working
here for me last spring worked two days and he made a thousand
prints. He was a skillful worker, really fasti But I don't
think that is a necessary approach to good photography, to
heighten and speed up everything, including the taking of the
pictures. Grab shots! The annuals are full of grab shots!
Well, at any rate, Charles H. Davis didn't do that. I
learned how to do that later. But when I came here I did have,
by that time, a camera, an assurance that wherever I wanted to
Lange: go I could probably earn my living. Otherwise I wouldn't
have come here. I had an uncertain technique, but an outlook.
I knew that I would never develop a commercial product like
Charles H. Davis 1 , that I had my own to make, and I was pretty
sure that I was working in a direction. I don't know just
what that direction was; I don't know to this day quite. I
had launched myself, educated myself in a scrappy, choppy,
unorthodox way, but I don't know a better way, if you could
go through it, than that. I knew something about what a
resonant, good photographic print is. I have print sense,
which some people don't ever have, like some people never
have perfect pitch, or a color sense. Almost something that
can't be- cultivated, print sense is something like that. If
you have it, you've got something. I had print sense.
Riess: What exactly does that mean?
Lange: I'm speaking of the technical matter of producing your print.
A fine print. Now Charles H. Davis, the old maestro, he banked
his full confidence on the negative. That was it for him.
He would say, "Made twenty negatives this morning!" Well,
he had negative sense. Prints to him were a mechanical outgrowth.
I bank on prints. I like a good negative, of course,
because it will make good prints. But there is something about
a fine print sometimes in reproduction also, and I'm speaking
of photographic black and white prints now that is, in its
range of tone, in its print quality, its print color, its print
Lange: vibration, impregnated with a life of its own. You can compare
it with a full, fine chord of music. It has richness, it has
depth. It can be very, very quiet and very mild, but nevertheless
it speaks. That's as well as I can say it. It may be in only
three or four tones, but those tones ring.
Gifts and Giving
Riess: Had you political interests or social consciousness at this age?
Lange: I must have because I remember listening to Woodrow Wilson in
person. I remember hearing him say, "In terms of common
parlance," and that made such an impression on me, that anyone
would choose such a phrase. I remember thinking that he looked
like my father, and I had great respect for him. I also
remember being in Madison Square Garden by myself at a mass
meeting and seeing Theodore Roosevelt in his black Prince
Albert coat, this log of a man, thick through, weight and heft.
What a shock it was that night and I'll never forget it--
when he raised his finger (he had a way of shaking one finger
when he spoke) and out came a squeaky voice, which no one had
told me about. It was like when much later my little boys were
Lange: in New Mexico for the first time, in the winter, and they
had been looking forward to the snow and when it came they
ran out in it in their pajamas and we had forgotten to tell
them that it was cold! They had only seen it in pictures and
it was like salt. Well, no one had ever said that Theodore
Roosevelt had a high, squeaky voice. And seeing pictures of
him now in newsreels you'd think of force and physical energy
in the man, but that voice] That was a great disappointment
At that time my mother was in the court of domestic
relations of Hudson County. These were the early
days, the formative period, and I think this was the third
juvenile court in the country, with one in New York and one
in Colorado. All the judgeships were political plums then
maybe they still are. Hudson County, New Jersey, is notoriously
a corrupt place. It later became Frank Hague's domain, and
Mother was there during the Frank Hague regime also. But I
heard politics, local politics. I heard about the atmosphere
of the juvenile court and about the difficulties of establishing
a social institution there.
Personally, I don't think I ever voted before I came
here. When did we get the vote? Nineteen-twenty. But the first
year that I was here I must have had a strong interest because
I stood on a street corner of Powell and Post, the side entrance
Lange: of the St. Francis Hotel, to see Woodrow Wilson again. It was
his last trip when he was making his fight for the League of
Nations. He came out of that side entrance and got into an
open car and stood up for a moment, and he had on a silk hat,
and the black overcoat with the satin lapels that men of high
office in those days wore. He stood up and I remember that
noble wasted face, really wasted. I could see then that it
was true, what they had been saying, that he was so very, very
ill. And it was being denied, you know, by his party.
These days when I look at Henry Cabot Lodge and remember
his father and what his father did to Wilson, I think of that
face. You can see from what I say that I don't tell you the
atmosphere of the time, but I tell you what I saw. This is
the way it goes with me.
Professional social workers I didn't know, excepting
that my mother was one, but she wasn't a regular. I've always
had a feeling about professional social workers something like
my feeling about professional educators. One of our daughters
is a psychiatric social worker now; her outlook on it is very
different from the days when I remember my mother going on
streetcars and making night interviews, alone, in all kinds of
wretched old Polish tenements in the winter, standing in the
windy, snowy streetcorners at night until late because sometimes
she would have to wait until the drunken father came home. She
Lange: would then make her personal report to the judge no paperwork
and no supervisors. Her work, her social outlook, was more
primitive, less based on exact knowledge of people, only on
what she thought about it. Well, social work has changed.
I found myself later sometimes having to knock at a
door when I was working and I used to remind myself of my own
mother many a time. I used to like to go with her, to see her
walk up the stairs, knock at a door, and then "nobody" would be
in. She had an uncanny way of knowing if they were in and
not answering, or whether they weren't in. She'd listen and
she'd know. She'd stand there and she would knock and knock.
Riess: What are some other visual memories you have?
Lange: An experience that affected me throughout my life was seeing
Isadora Duncan. I saw her every performance that I could
possibly find a way to. And 1 had never been taken into the
upper reaches of human existence before then. Some people get
this through Shakespeare, don't they? These performances in
this particular year were held at the Metropolitan Opera House;
they went about two weeks and I think they were in the spring.
They were really her ^reat performances. I have heard and
read references to the great performances of Isadora Duncan
with these half-grown young women who were her institution--
I wouldn't say school; this was a group of people who lived
together, traveled together--! 've often wondered what happened
Lange: to them when this thing ended. It ended.
It was something unparalleled and unforgettable to
many people, not just to myself. But to me it was the greatest
thing that ever happened. I still live with that, not as a
theatrical performance, but as an extension of human possibility.
I saw it there. This woman had a quality that could electrify
thousands of people at once by doing nothing, really. A
minimum of physical motion. My, how strangely she walked.
And sometimes she just stood. With the full Metropolitan
Orchestra. She was rather sloppy- looking, rather fat, with
very heavy upper legs, yet with a peculiar grace, not grace as
I had preconceived it, but different.
She was a person who made a real contribution in that
she gave a new form of something. It wasn't based on other
dancers' work. You were on unfamiliar ground. There wasn't
any business of it being "like something else," at least not
for me. I was unprepared. But I certainly have been enriched
I've never been able to photograph a dancer. I've
photographed children on the top of hills, running, jumping,
which reminded me somewhat, you know, but I never have been
able to get interested in photographing a dancer. A lot of
stage things I've never been interested in doing. You know
the theater, the entertainment world, when you are in the
Lange: professional photograph business, is a very quick way of
gaining fame or recognition, by doing theater people. Well,
I never did it. I've seen, and come in contact with, some
pretty wonderful ones and I guess I didn't get magnetized
by the second-raters, but I've seen these people.
There were about seven girls with Isadora Duncan,
fifteen to eighteen years old, and all clothed the same
way. It wasn't Greek; there were no garments; they were
just minimally clothedgauze, chiffon, that kind of thing.
No props, no lights, no change of costume, nothing.
And some of that music, still, I mean if I hear it
I am aware I don't want to listen to it really. Some things
in Schubert that I don't want to hear. It hurts me that it's
gone, out of life, and not enough people experienced it.
That's ridiculous, isn't it. It isn't nostalgia, but it cut
very deep. I was very impressionable. I went by myself;
nobody took me there. I got there somehow.
Riess: Was Genthe photographing her then?
Lange: He had already photographed her. She came to the studio
one time, when I was there, with those girls. She was a
very coarse- looking woman. She had too much makeup on.
And I'm not sure she was entirely sober. But I didn't mind.
Also he took me--or someone took me--to a place where
they were all living, this whole troop, in an apartment on
Lange: Seventy-second Street while they were in this engagement.
They slept on mattresses on the waxed floor, and there was
no furniture. That made a great impression on me. I don't
like clutter; it comes from that; I saw what they meant;
I knew what that kind of life, and that sort of a level, could
be. 1 saw it there, you see.
Riess: What were the interchanges between them like?
Lange: I remember hardly anything about what they said. And I don't
think I was there very long, but I certainly was looking.
I never showed up in school at that time. That
was where 1 was, and that was the high point, and not only
to me. I think this that she introduced originated in her,
and it never quite died. No Martha Grahams or any of these
people ever touched it. It had nothing to do with physical
prowess. And the music just enveloped this, and the flow of
the musicwell, I remember in one thing that I saw them
do a good many times, that Shubert thing, she stood absolutely
motionless, and one by one these beautiful children went
across that stage toward her. And each one so different, and
all undisciplined. You knew that no one had told them what
to do. There was no step, or no count, or any training. It
was really in space. Beautiful.
Riess: You were lucky.
Lange: I was lucky. There were other things in which I was lucky too.
Lange: But that was very important to me. There were people who were
important to me, individual people who were important to
me, also, whom I left behind, and they always live there,
on that side of the curtain of the past, never on the other
side, people from whom I learned quality, such as Aunt Emily.
I had an aunt who was a nurse in a hospital. She wasn't
really an aunt, she was one of those people in your family
who are on the edges and we called her Aunt Emily--her name
was Emily Sandcrfield. I learned from her serenity. A most
obscure woman, a nurse in a private hospital in those days
they had private hospitals--working for a Viennese doctor like
a prisoner in a little room in that big brownstone on Lexington
Avenue. I saw her rarely; once in a while I would go there--
that dark quiet placeand she would come. I don't remember
speaking to her, what her face looked like when she spoke.
Oh, what a nurse she must have been. She had healing in her,
you know. Big, plain face, head to one side. I remember how
red and big her hands were. Probably she had had them in strong
things, you know. Great red, big hands. And peaceful,
peaceful. No one else was like that, no other person that I'd
And then there was another one that I left behind there,
who was half -myth, but he was a sculptor, who fell very much
in love with me as a seventeen-year-old girl. And he was a good
Lange: sculptor, and I didn't know what to think of it. Well, this
one was left behind too.
Riess: You say he was half a myth.
Lange: Half a myth, because I didn't know what was going on, really.
He was a good deal older than I was.
Let me finish with this, let me get through here. You
see, what I am doing is hanging on. I'm loath to really come
out of this past and go on to California because of so much
that I haven't said, the whole atmosphere of that little part
of the eastern coast to an emerging young woman that I haven't
touched on, actually.
There was a club that I used to be taken to every
Sunday evening because the man who was president of the club,
called the Pleiades Club, was awell, I don't know what you'd
Lange: say he was of mine, not a boyfriend, certainly he wasn't a
lover of mine--but I was the focus of his attention for a
couple of years, completely, one hundred per cent, three
letters a day kind of thing. And he's still living, and a
couple of years ago I got a letter in that familiar hand-
writing from him. It was a very odd kind of a thing. If
I were to go back over these peoplefrom my Aunt Emily I
got serenity, and from this man I got a sense of real
devotion. You couldn't break that off very easily.
There wasn't anything that he could give to me that he didn't
try to give to me, even things he thought I needed. I
remember he took me to a farewell dinner of Sothern and
Marlowe when they left the Shakespearean stage, and I heard
Marlowe read the Shakespeare sonnets. Such things he did for
me, this man.
Riess: Was he older?
Lange: He was old. Forty maybe, thirty-five. [Laughter] I don't know.
Riess: Where did you meet him?
Lange: My companion with whom I came here, whom I have not yet mentioned,
went on a suraner vacation with her mother and father to a
little lake in New York State. There he was, in a rowboat,
this man, visiting other people, who were all Pleiades Club
people, and they used to gather therethey had an encampment.
And that's where I met him. This was the year 1915.
Lange: I have some poetry that's dated that he sent me. I can see
that handwriting. I used to get letters. Sometimes I couldn't
He was also a printer and he worked very hard and he
gave me a lot of things. He bought me records and he bought
me a gramophone, gave it to me for Christmas. My mother
permitted me to accept it. [Laughter]
Riess: And he demanded nothing of you?
Lange: Nothing, and that was a big mistake. He-should have, or--I
was too young, you see. I got my first evening dress to go
to that Pleiades Club.
Riess: What was the Pleiades Club?
Lange: A Sunday night club. It was at the Hotel Breevort, which was
one of the great New York hostelries. Edith Whartonish, you
know. Have you ever read Edith Wharton's early New York?
Early New York was really fine in many ways. The Hotel
Breevort is now an immense apartment house, called the Breevort.
It was a French hotelrather shabby and very upper crust--
and they had Sunday night suppers. That's the kind of thing
it was. It was an institution. I think it still goes on. Well,
this fellow's name was John Landon and he was president these
years that I used to be able to go because he took me. He came
from Brooklyn and he still lives in Brooklyn and he never married.
Not because of me he didn't get married, because after me there
Lange: was another girl, whom he treated just exactly the same way,
just exactly the same complete devotion.
Riess: Well, what do you think it was?
Lange: I think we conjure up and invent people, and then whoever
happens to be there is the recipient of our imagination. A
good deal of the attraction between people, I think, is based
on the fact that one is able to absorb the creation. I'm
sure that--in his case--that ray successor in his devotion he
saw as the same kind of person as he saw me. I don't believe
there was any reality in it. It wasn't really me. I must
have been aware of that, too, because I always pitied him just
Riess: The sculptor was later?
Lange: Somewhere along there. He used to suddenly appear. He was
something, slightly a madman, and he used to appear unexpectedly.
I mean I never got a letter from him, but there he was. And
it would be at any hour, all hours. I remember one particular
time in the summer and he was in quite a state--! don't know
what it was that put him in these states, could have been
liquor, but I don't know, except that when he was in one of
these he would make a bee line, and my mother was very under-
standing of that, she was very good about him. She'd take him
on; she'd take care of him; she'd let him be there. I never
could quite understand it but it made an impression on me because
Lange: I knew that this was a real artist. And I knew that something was
expected of me, but I didn't know what that was. I again represented
something. I didn't know what it was I was supposed to be, but I was
it! And that has happened to me more than once.
This is far afield; I'd love to pull that curtain and
get those people all back there and in their place. And the
whole point of remembering these people is to try to find out
what it is that forms you. It isn't, I think* so much things that
happened to you, episodes, as it is persons that affect you--
influence is a different word than affect, I think, and
sometimes people deliberately try to influence you, that isn't
what I mean but persons who affect your outlook and your
sights. They introduce you to different worlds, different
kinds of existence with predominant qualities. I mean that
thing that I got from Emily Sanderfield, that nurse, that's a
constant, and permanent, pervading concept that I have of inner
serenity. Nothing could have disturbed that in that woman.
Complete self-abnegation, like a nun. Complete! Well, all
my life I've been wondering whether that abnegation isn't an
essential thing for real serenity. Those questions rise, but
they don't come out of thin air, they come because you've
met the situation. And she presented that situation. This
selfless woman, but what she got from it! I was a harassed
Lange: person as a child, but I sensed that calm in her and I just
liked it when she opened that door and there she was. Oh,
I can see that starched nurse's uniform, that wide starched
belt, and hear the crackle of those clothes, though she was
so silent. And those long halls, that linoleum, the stair-
cases in those brownstone houses, that person who was in there.
I think she rarely went out of that hospital. I remember the
little cell-like room she had. I'd go there and there would
be no place to sit down, so I'd sit on the bed. It was just
like a cell, like a nun.
Personal chit-chat seems so poverty-stricken and
unimportant, and yet, actually, from it come the things that
get you going. Those are the things, the combination of them
are what forms you. They speak, always, don't they, in the
psychology books, of the influence of the parents. How about
the influence, also unconscious, of all these other people,
of everyone. It's always unconscious. If they try to influence
you they can just stop right there. But where it's just this
peculiar exchange that there is ...
Riess: What about what Isadora Duncan has given you? Does it have
necessarily to be on a personal level?
Lange: Well, in her case I don't think of it as personal at all. That
was to me like getting religion [laughter], which I never got
in any way. I had no conception of that at all, never got that.
Lange: But I got it through Duncan. That was a human performance on
a level as high as any that I've encountered. She was a truly
creative person; she created new brain cells.
Jack Landon did it for me, a lot of it. My father did
too. My father took me to a performance of Shakespeare when I
was about ten years old. It was Midsummer Night fe Dream and
we went in a coach. And when we got there there wasn't a
ticket left. My father stood and I sat on his shoulders all
through, and the reason that he took me was that I had read
Shakespeare. We had a great volume of Shakespeare, and I had
read Shakespeare. And they used to laugh at me and say I
couldn't have read it, and then they'd quiz me on the story.
I'd read it just for the story, you know. I didn't read
Shakespeare '. I just had this big book, and I read these stories.
And because of that my father took me. That was a magic thing
to do for me, to see that. Magic. 1 I've always been grateful
to him for that. And that coach.
I remember some of the lines: "Let me see thee in
thy maiden's weeds..." [Laughter] That was a line I loved.
I thought that was the best line of all. I remember reading
Macbeth. All in one book! It was a big one like this great
unabridged dictionary. With little, fine print. Oh, I'd love to have
that book. Yet I don't even think they even knew I was doing
it, until they discovered it and then they questioned me,
Lange: queried me. "How about this?" and "How about that?" And
laughed. There are people who read very carefully. I am
a voracious reader, and a careless reader. I don't retain
anymore. But I love to read, and I will reread, and I do
love Shakespeare. In little bits of doses that go through my
mind--oh, how they ring in my mind! What's the one I was
reading it this afternoon--"0ur revels now are ended." Do
you remember that from the Tempest? How does it go?
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air.
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
What beautiful words'
Lange: A few years ago I realized that the entire span of
my life I have fought dreadful fatigue. I think I was born
tired. I've been weary all my life, and I've always had to
make a great effort to do the things that I really wanted to
do, combating not having quite enough to do it with. I have
friends who say, "I've never been tired in my life." And
I've been tired all my life, every day of my life. I
remember when I was only maybe ten years old being as tired
as a human being could be, and wishing that I could sleep
forever just because I was so tired. I remember seeing
nuns on the street and thinking, "How fortunate they are,
because they're never tired." As a child I was tired. I
don't know what made me so weary.
Riess: It wasn't world-weariness.
Lange: No. It was physical. I think maybe I expended all I had
always in one direction or another. That may be some reason
why I always knew that I was observing more than I was
participating. Maybe I didn't have left what other people
had to go on. I don't know what it is, excepting that I know
it's been with me, dominant. Then, and it's the same thing
now that I've always had, only it's more marked now than
Riess: Haven't you chosen an extremely physically wearing way of life?
I. .mm-: Oh, yes. And if 1 were to tell people about this weariness who
Lange: know me they wouldn't believe what I say. "How do you do it
all? How?" That's what I've always heard. Well, you do,
really, what you must do. You can't deny what you must do,
no matter what it costs. And with me it was always expenditure
to the last ditch. I know the last ditch. I've lived on the
Riess: So that you're always aware of this tiredness. You can't get
Lange: I'm aware of it. I'm aware of other things too. I'm aware of
when I feel fine. It isn't always, but it's there! I have a
series of photographs, it's one of my series which I'm now
going to get ready for presentation, that is called Last
Ditch. It is where you just can do no more. As I say, from
childhood I knew.
When I was in that Clarence White class I was more
interested in him and what he was doing than I was in going
out and photographing a gate. I didn't have any of that
zeal to be an artist that many of the people with whom I have
associated all my life had. I've never thought of myself in
Lange: that direction. I've always thought of myselfand in those
years also- -as finding ways to learn what I thought was a
very interesting job, a trade.. It was a very good trade, I
thought, one that I could do. It was a choice. I picked
it. But I never picked the role of artist. And I never have
had very much faith in that category. I never have had the
slightest interest in the argument, "Is Photography An Art?"
Riess: And yet you are in "Photography as Fine Art" collections.
Lange: Yes, I am. But I never have regarded myself and neither have
the artists with whom I have lived and worked, the people
whose work I know best and respect most I never heard them
call themselves artists.
Riess: You're speaking of the photographers? Or painters too?
Lange: I mean painters too. With people who are interested in doing
something, very interested, it is almost the degree to which
they are involved that is the degree to which other people call
them artists. Really involved I mean. I always have thought
that this quality I didn't always think, because I didn't
think about that at all in my early years
Riess: Whether it was art or not.
Lange: I knew that some people made pretenses at this and I knew that
there were some photographs which were in that classification,
but I just looked for ways of doing it very well indeed. I
Lange: liked photography so much that I wanted It to be good and later
on I wanted it to be really excellent and stand by itself.
But to be an Artist was something that to me was unimportant
and I didn't really know what it meant. I viewed with suspicion
those people to whom it was important. Generally they were
I have a certain snobbishness about things being very
first-class, very top-drawer. I like people that are top-
drawer. And many of them have within them this peculiar
quality, this "plus" thing that fascinates me. I don't know
where it comes from. I suppose it's what many people say is the
art thing. Well, to me it is the "plus" thing.
-There are many things I've left out, of course, important
things. What I would like to have touched on as I look back
on what I've said is, "What formed me? What was behind me, really,
when I came here?" Because when I came here that immediately
became very much my past, quite far back. In some ways all those
years I remember as though they happened in another century.
Some people's youth is active in their minds; they relive it
Lange: and never get over it. They never survive their own youth.
Mine was as though when I came here it was very much a big,
heavy curtain that I pulled.
Riess: As if it was another person.
Lange: Yes, quite another person, and the links back, excepting in my
mind, were few.
THE RECENT PAST "PUTTING THE FABRIC TOGETHER"
Studio on Sutter Street
Lange: I have had one very close woman friend since I was twelve
years old. I came to California with her in January 1918.
We went through school together. She is now seventy years old,
and she has been with me all my life. By that I mean that
though I have not now seen her for two years, and in the last
twenty years we have rarely seen each other--we do not write,
excepting in personal emergencies, and then it is Just a
line, nothing more because we don't have to, or occasionally
she'll telephone me from Honolulu if she's there, or from Los
Angeles, if she's thereshe has always known everything about
me by being told and without being told. I have never had
a closer friend than she.
I had not so many women friends, or girl friends, before
I came here because, I think, I didn't do the things they did.
I didn't have the outlook that they had. I've always had a
certain kind of drive that very young women and adolescent girls
don't, I think. I did have another friend who died about ten
years ago who was my friend all through these years which started
Lange: in New York. I lived with her in New York for a few months,
the only time that I lived away from home that 1 can
Riess: What was the name of your very close friend?
Lange: We'll call her Fronsie.* If I speak of her it's always Fronsie.
Riess: Did Fronsie skip school with you?
Lange: Yes, but not as badly as I did. She just went with me sometimes.
She had sisters, and had a more normal life, in many ways, than.
I had. She had no particular outlets or talents at that time.
She has now, since then, become a very well-known decorator
with a big name, and she recently did the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.
She's done several of the Hilton hotels; she's had big contracts.
But she developed this, oddly, later. When we came here to
San Francisco together she was--well, now, I'm getting ahead.
Just let me say that I had this one, very close young woman
friend. If I say girl friend, that isn't the kind of a relation-
ship it was. She was--
Riess: Older a bit, wasn't she?
Lange: Three years older.
I have wondered since, sometimes, whether she wasn't much
more tolerant and good to me than I realized at the time. Because
Florence Bates [Hayward], now living on Wilshire Blvd.,
Los Angeles. P.S.T
Lange: after I was married and she went on to Honolulu she began
immediately to be more of a person than she had ever been
until we separated. I know that I never dominated her--
she was Swedish and you couldn't budge her but I wonder whether
she didn't subscribe largely to my interests, partly out of love,
and knowing my necessities. I think maybe she did. She herself
is not a selfless person. Now she's a pretty impressive dame,
this one! And knows just what she wants. But she didn't then.
We came here together, thinking we would go around the
world. I had something that I thought I could call my trade.
I wasn't absolutely sure, but I thought I had enough so I
could make a living completely on my own. And she was a
Western Union clerk and that company told her they would
transfer her to any city in the United States or anywhere.
(In fact, later on she went to Honolulu and around the world.)
I guess it was just the time that comes in most young
people's lives where they just, for some reason or other,
know they have to go. I wanted to go away as far as I could
go. Not that I was bitterly unhappy at home, or where I was,
or doing what I was doing. But it was a matter of really
testing yourself out. Could you or couldn't you. We had only
a few dollars I've forgotten how many--and we got our rail-
road fare and had beyond that a little. I don't remember
that we had a trunk. I had a camera case, and I remember a
Lange: very heavy suitcase, and Fronsie had the same. I know it took
us six weeks to get here, because we had letters to strangers
and time to stop and visit. Our route was by boat to New
Orleans, and then by train. And we had a wonderful time.
You know, there are some periods of your life where everything
seems to happen all right. There are also some periods of
your life where you make friends with great rapidity. It's
almost a well-known place in a life span where your personal
attachments multiply very fast. WelLj this happened to both of
us. Or, it happened to me and through me for her, I think,
over that trip out here and when we got here. We were taken
care of every place we stopped. At a ranch that we lived
on in New Mexico with people who were extraordinarily kind
to us I don't know how all this happened, but we had a
Riess: Who did you have letters from?
Lange: Friends. I don't recall this very much. There are lots of
things I could go on about about that trip, but I don't think
they are really pertinent to this narrative. By that I mean
that the person who arrived in California and the person that
left New York hadn't been particularly directed by what
happened in between. It was just a very good time.
But when we got to San Francisco everything sharply
changed. It was May of the year when we arrived and we went to
Lange: the YWCA Hotel in San Francisco. The first morning we were
here--we had already decided that we had to stop to work here
in order to go on we went out to breakfast at a Comp ton's
cafeteria and Fronsie's pocket was picked, every nickel that
we had! So there we were. We had change left, and I remember
saying, "Well, here we are, What will we do today?"
And she said, "Let's go over and see what the University
of California is like."
I demurred and said, "What do we want to go to the
University of California for? We haven't got enough money.
We'd better go for a job." I prevailed and I'm sorry now.
It would have made such a good story, in view of later happenings,
if we had given the University a whirl. But we went back to
the YWCA Hotel and told them of the situation we were in
and they recommended that we move immediately [ laughter] to a
place called the Mary Elizabeth Inn, an Episcopal home for
working girls, at 1040 Bush Street in San Francisco. (It's
still there.) And we took that camera, and those heavy bags--
this was still a lark, in a way, I mean we didn't take the
situation really seriously at all; we knew that we could get
money from home if we needed to, but we were still in the mood
and the temper of that trip we went there, and the deaconesses,
in the most Christian attitude in the world, accepted us, and
installed us in some cubicles. They had cubicles for the inmates
Lange: of this place. [Laughter] And rules, quite rigid.
Riess: Did they examine your background before accepting you?
Lange: I don't remember that. I don't think so. But she knew we
were penniless. And here we were.
Well, as I say, there are times when you multiply your
friends. This was the most unlikely place in the world to make
lasting attachments, yet we did. Just last week a woman
appeared at this door, an old lady now, whom I had known
from there, and I've never been out of touch with her all
these years. The only difference is when she comes she keeps
recalling things I don't remember at all. She relives that
That was a place where you had to be home at ten o'clock
at night. And we were finally ejected because Fronsie left
on the electric iron in the laundry and it burned through,
and I had been caught twice smoking. The deaconesses used to
walk down the corridors sniffing. Oh, it would be easy to
ridicule those deaconesses, where actually they did a very
good job there, and they really gave clean and pleasant
surroundings to people who needed it. They had a lot of strays
there too, people who couldn't get in at ten o'clock at night--
there was the case of one who couldn't get in at ten o'clock
at night so she spent the night with her boyfriend, because
what else could she do? Well, the deaconesses didn't see that!
Lange: I don't think that Fronsie and I were disruptive
elements, but those people who they had a little bit of
difficulty with would always be at the table where we were, it
was that kind of a thing. Also, by the time they ejected
us we no longer had to be there, because that was for people
who earned very little money, and the next morning, when we had
been in San Francisco one day, I went out and got a job, and
Fronsie went out and got a job at the Western Union, so we
were in no time employed.
Riess: Had you any letters to people in San Francisco?
Lange: Yes, we had a few, and there was an old friend of my mother's
who lived here in Berkeley, but we didn't do anything about
I looked up in the telephone book places where they did
photo- finishing. I knew I could get a job right away. I didn't
want to get into a studio job. I wanted to sense the life of
the city. So I got a job in a store in San Francisco, at
712 Market Street. The name of the store was Marsh & Company.
This was a store where the front door opened at eight in the
morning, and stayed open. They sold luggage and stationery,
and photo- finishing was done in the back. Photo- finishing's
always in the back, because then people have to walk through
the store, and they buy things on the way. That's the way they
Lange: The boss was a very anxious and uncertain man, and the
employees had to be busy every minute or else he was afraid
he wasn't getting his money's worth. He had a store manager
who was cross-eyed, one of those good store managers, rather
lazy but he knew how to sell. The boss used to get nervous and
if someone's shadow--in the back of the store when the street
was light you'd always see the silhouettes of the people
if he'd see somebody coming into the store and hesitating for
a moment (this always used to make me laugh) he would go up
so fast he'd just slide, and then he'd stop short and say,
"Was you waited on?" [Laughter] Oh, ray!
My job was to take in the developing and the printing,
try to sell as many enlargements as 1 could, and if we were
not too busy, framing. These were all things that you encouraged
people to have.
Riess: And you worked at the counter?
Lange: Yes, and it was a very high counter; these cheaper stores
had very high counters so there could be no pilfering. That's
where I was. I don't remember where the film was developed; it
was developed out. This was a quick-turnover store.
Well, I don't remember how long I was there, not very long.
But Roi Partridge and Imogen Cunningham I met over that counter.
And directly or indirectly, many of the people whose lives have
been closest to mine, all the years that I have lived here now,
Lange: I can trace back, if I stop to trace it and as I say indirectly
in some cases to that counter. I'm very curious about this
and I'm repeating it for the third time, but this happens
to people sometimes in some periods of their lives. Generally
they've freed themselves from something, they're open you see.
Extraordinary things happened to me over that most unpromising
I had always, and this may appear through this account,
been a self-learner. I have learned from everything, and
I'm constantly learning. It's part cufiosity, I think, trying
to discover why things happen the way they do, watching every-
thing and my own activities included. I never can say that
this person or that person taught me, or that school. It's
all fragments, you see, and I've been putting this fabric
together all ray life, but it's the obscure people who always
taught me more than the people you'd think would have taught me.
Riess: Obscure as far as fame.
Lange: Yes. They've been quite the most important ones. The other
people, the people to whom I could give, have been the big ones.
That's curious. Where I got it and where I gave it. Does that
make sense to you?
At any rate, that counter was the beginning of my life
here. And that Mary Elizabeth Inn, which was equally an
unpromising sort of gound, was a very rich period as far as
Lange: helping me to really get established. And it progressed
I joined the camera club because I wanted a darkroom.
The camera club provided a darkroom. It also provided some--
I don't know if you know anything about camera clubs, but
camera clubs are equally unpromising places [laughing] to
develop a photographic career. They're generally stuffed with
old fogies to whom it has been a hobby. And they are
unilluminated. It's three-quarters social, with bridge parties
in the evenings and so on. Well, I met some people there, my
faithful friends, Lou Tyler, who later became my darkroom man
and my great friend Percy Neymann, Ph.D. , who used to work
with me at night in his flat on Fillmore Street a big apart-
ment house there now and took me home every night and got me
there at ten o'clock. That was something.
And Consuela Kanaga, the first newspaper photographer
I'd ever met. She was a person way ahead of her time, Consuela.
She was a terribly attractive, dashing kind of a gal, who
worked for the News and lived in a Portuguese hotel in North
Beach, which was entirely Portuguese workingmen, except Consuela.
She's a strange person. No I not a strange person, a sweet,
simple person. But she had more courage! She'd go anywhere and
do anything. She was perfectly able, physically, to do any-
thing at anytime the paper told her to they could send her to
Lange: places where an unattached woman shouldn't be sent and Consuela
was never scathed. She had a tripod with a red velvet head on
it, and she could carry that red velvet head! She was a dasher.
She's always been ray friend. Our careers have run otherwise,
and she's been in New York for many years, but I see her when
I'm there. She was very--generally if you use the word
unconventional you mean someone who breaks the rules she had
no rules. [Laughter] Never has had.
And then there was Sidney Franklin, who was a very smart,
young, rich businessman, who offered to set me up in business
as a portrait photographer in San Francisco after I'd been
here maybe three or four months. He was in some kind of real
estate business. At any rate, he had money to invest, and he
wanted to go into the photograph business. And I suppose he
saw that he could make good use of me, that I could do it.
I said, "All right," and that it would cost a lot of money--
he didn't seem to mind thatand I found a place where I thought
I would like to work, part of a beautiful building. It's an
art gallery now, 540 Sutter Street, right next to Elizabeth
Arden, a handsome old building there. I had half of that
building, and the basement. The front of it was Hill-Tollerton.
They sold etchings, and fine prints. I leased this thing, and
Sidney Franklin was goinu to underwrite it, and then ...
This |s ,m|i| j, at i-U...
Lange: I have a friend who is a San Francisco attorney, his
name is Joe O'Connor. He was a young bachelor at that time.
Joe O'Connor, whom I met through the woman who was here last
week that I told you about [old Mary Elizabeth Inn resident],
didn't care very much for Sidney Franklin, and he gave me
three thousand dollars. That three thousand dollars wasn't his
money; it was the money of an Irish friend of his who was
awfully rich who was out here and having a good time and he
liked mi- and he liked Fronsie very much and he gave the money
to Joe and he said, "Here, you give it to her. She can make
this by herself. She needn't share the results of her work
with Sidney Franklin." So Sidney Franklin was good, and
released me, and I did it on my own with the help of Jack
Boumphrey's three thousand dollars.
I was in that studio for maybe six or eight years,
in that location, and it went all right, it went fine. I'm
wry grateful for the help I had, but at that time everything
fell that way. I was wi 11 ing, however, to work very hard. There
were years of it. That place was my life, and it became the
center for many other people who used my studio in the afternoons
and the night. It became a kind of clubbish place. Some of
the people I never even saw! Everybody brought everybody,
you know, and many of the people whom I know now came through
there. I had a big, black velvet couch that they used to call the
Lange: "matrimonial bureau"--so many people, smilingly, were married
because of that couch and that big fireplace. I had a Chinese
girl who worked for me and every afternoon she used to light
the Russian samovar and by five o'clock that place was full of
all kinds of people.
Riess: She did photographic work for you too?
Lange: Yes. And she helped around the place, kept the place clean; she
was maid and assistant and so on. I was there day and night
and very often I didn't know what was going on upstairs.
Riess: Did your customers come in to your studio or did you go out to
Lange: I went out for special ones. I went to Seattle two or three times,
made a lot of money up there.
Riess: How did you get your customers?
Lange: I have no idea. I never knew then where they were coming from.
Customers in a business like that come one from the others. Also
remember that people who came into that building and bought
original etchings and original prints were the kind of people
who, if your work had any quality, would notice it.
I didn't do anything phenomenal. I wasn't trying to.
I wasn't trying to be a great photographer. I never have. I
was a photographer, and I did everything that I could to make it
as good as I could. And good meant to me being useful, filling
a need, really pleasing the people for whom I was working. By
Lange: that I don't mean pandering to their vanity, but sincerely trying
to give them what they wanted, which meant, then as now, that my
personal interpretation was second to the need of the other fellow.
That is something that I have been, in a way, contending with.
[Laughter] All my life, I have never been able to resistexcepting
just recently In the last couple of years, and then not altogether
seeing the other fellow's needs before my own. If that sounds
as if I am giving myself a compliment, I intend it opposite.
I tried very hard all my life to make a place where I would be,
where what I did would count, aside from just pleasing myself,
a place for it, where it would stay. That's why I think after all
these years this portrait business was good, in that way. I hear
it. I go places and see things of mine on the wall that I did
thirty years ago. People still meet me in San Francisco and say,
"I suppose you don't remember a picture that you made of ...
but we still..." And sometimes when they're talking, where
I didn't when they started, I know before they're through the
picture they're talking about.
Nothing that I can remember that's being published today
did I make in that period for its own sake; I can't think of
anything that has lived that way. But they were important and
useful to the people for whom I made them. I never tried the
other way. I never was interested in photographing the
celebrities that came my way for the publicity value. It was a
Lange: kind of a diffidence or something, that I couldn't make use of
people for my own purpose, ever.
Riess: Let's talk more about that later on. [See Observations and
Hopes for the Future.]
Langc: Yes. Now I told you I was in the basement working most of the
time, day and night, Saturdays and Sundays, holidays. I had
much to do.
Ricss: All commissions, nothing on your own?
Langc: Nothing else, for years. It never occurred to me. People like
Imogen Cunningham, whom I knew very well by that time, all worked
for name and prestige, and sent to exhibits. But I was a
tradesman. At least I so regarded myself. And I was a
professional photographer who had a product that was more
honest, more truthful, and in some ways more charming. At any
rate there was no false front in it. I really and seriously
tried, with every person I photographed, to reveal them as
closely as I could.
Riess: Through getting to know them first.
Lange: As far as I could. Sometimes sittings and resittings, and resittings.
Riess: And you certainly never draped them.
Lange: Oh, no. No posturing, no dramatics. They were intimate things
for family. When people have their photograph taken it always
comes around some episide. I remember I photographed a young
woraan--oh, dear, this was an odd thing--very pretty girl, and I
Lange: couldn't find out much about her. She was very vivacious and a
little bit giddy. I photographed her, and a week later her mother
came to get the proofs, telling me that the girl had just joined
an order. [Laughter] I didn't probe that one. And she's now
in Canada. I know this, because her name was Denise Tolan. She
was the daughter of ex-Congressman Tolan, of our district here.
Her brother, John H. Tolan, who was in Democratic politics, told
me that she's in Canada, and she is doing very hard frontier work
in northern Canada, with Eskimos. Well, most people I get to
know more about!
Maynard Dixon and Bohemian San Francisco
Lange: I told you I was in the basement most of the time, very busy
working, and all these people were there a lot, many people.
Oh, dear, if I could remember the names of all those people!
I'd hear them, coming in in the evening, and some of their footsteps
I knew. I'd know when Fronsie came in because I knew her step.
My darkroom was just below that corridor.
One night there came some very peculiar sharp, clicking
footsteps, and I wondered who that was. A couple of nights later
I heard the same steps. I asked somebody, "Who is that that I
Lange: heard with those sharp heels?"
"Oh, that's Maynard Dixon. Haven't you met him?"
"No, I don't know him." Well, I did meet him up there a
few evenings later. And about six or eight months after that
we were married.
He was working at Foster and Kleiser, where he was top
billboard designer. Roi Partridge was also there. There was a
string of them: Stafford Duncan, who was a San Francisco painter
and a good one; Fred W. Ludekens , a designer. It was a kind of
golden age at Foster and Kleiser. That particular period they
did something unique, they hired the top people whom they could to
design their billboards. This is now finished. Management has
changed. The man who was responsible for this was a fellow who
committed suicide a few years ago, Charlie Duncan. This was a
stable of people who behaved abominably. They were paid a lot
of money. They showed up when they pleased, they did as they
pleased. And they made wonderful billboards. That's what Maynard
Dixon was doing at that time when I first met him. Oh, do you
know, some of them they're still using, like Sherwin-Williams'
miner with the red shirt. I see Foster and Kleiser's work, trade-
marks and things, all over. They had all the big accounts.
These billboards were really quite fine.
Maynard worked there for maybe a year or so after we were
married, and then he decided that he wasn't going to stay any
Lange: morethis was before the management changedand he worked one
day a week for them for a while and then not at all and went to
his studio and decided that he would devote himself not to doing
any more ads, but to being a painter. He did enough ads,
though they were not billboard ads, designing ads, to keep him
Koing. They paid him very well for everything that he did,
and though he always thought he had financial stringencies, he
never had real ones.
Riess: You still had your studio, and he had his.
Lange: Yes, I did.
I was very hesitant, in a way, about this marriage. I
remember being in that darkroom and hearing those footsteps.
He wore cowboy boots, that was it, with very high heels, Texas
boots. He had slim and beautiful feet, and he was inordinately
vain of those feet. They were very wonderful- looking feet and
hands that man had, and those slim cowboy boots showed it, with
those high arches. Well, at any rate, I used to hear those
footsteps and then for awhile I was very much afraid of those
footsteps and when I heard them I wouldn't go upstairs. I
Lange: I don't know. It was a certain fear that I had. I was a little
afraid of him. Not always, but in that period I was, but afraid
of what, I don't know.
Ricss: Was he a San Franciscan?
Lange: No, he was born in Fresno of a very distinguished lineage that
went back to Williams burg. His family migrated from Virginia--
his father was a graduate of the University of Virginia--to
Mississippi, where they had a plantation, and there they went
through the Civil War. Maynard's father was in the Confederate
army, and all his papers, and his diaries, and the buttons
from his uniform, all this is now in the University of Virginia.
That family migrated then from Mississippi the plantation was
at a place called Deer Creek and there was nothing left after the
war--to Fresno, to the valley. Fresno, I think, was the first
town in it, in the early days. It was populated by either
Mexicans or people from the South who came there. Maynard's
father was the first county clerk.
The family built a ranch outside Madera, called Refuge,
which still exists under that name, and is still in the hands of
members of that family, the Mordecais. And they run it now as
a big cotton plantation, but it was cattle up to the time when
cotton was introduced into California in the twenties. That
ranch has been a functioning ranch. There've been many changes
but, as I say, members of that family still live in it. The
family graveyard is there, as in the South they have them on the
plantations; that's a Southern custom and the burial plot is down
there still in use, as the family members die off. Many of them
Lange: are unreconstructed; Maynard had many traces of it. How can I
explain it? They still felt pretty strongly about the "damn
Yankees." Later on in Maynard 's life it became the "damn businessmen"
but it was the same thing. That was just another way of
expressing the same kind of bias.
He came to San Francisco as a quite young man, with
a remarkable facility and an extraordinary visual memory, beyond
anything I've ever encountered. He could capture anything,
anything. That very narrow, flexible hand of his could put
anything he wanted it to on a piece of paper.
I have never watched any person's life as closely, up
to that time, as I watched his, what it held, how he lived it.
He was at that time forty-five years old, and I was twenty-one
years younger. That didn't bother me; though it bothered other
friends that I would do that, it didn't bother me at all. All
the years that I lived with him, which were fifteen years, I
continued to reserve a small portion of my life. I think that's
the best way I can put it. I reserved a portion of my life
always--out of some sense that I had to--and that was my
photographic area. Still the most of life and the biggest part,
the largest part of my energy, and my deepest allegiances, were
to Maynard' s work, and my children. I have two boys whose name is
Dixon. One of them lives in that house down there [1163 Euclid],
John Dixon. One lives in San Francisco, Daniel Dixon. Maynard
Lange: also had a daughter by a previous marriage. His former wife lived
in San Francisco. She was an inebriate, an advanced alcoholic,
and this child lived with her, and needed a lot of protection
through many very grave difficulties. But I was married to him
for fifteen years. And that world was a world totally different
from the world that I had built for myself, up to that time,
although the transition wasn't hard. I knew enough by that
time. I respected the work of an interesting person like that.
Riess: Maybe the fear of this absorption was one of the things that
made you resist coming out of the basement in the beginning.
Lange: Yes, I think that probably was it. Maynard was a very well-
known figure. He was a "San Francisco figure" and he knew how
to be a "San Francisco figure." He was popular and respected and
people rather spoiled him because he suited their idea of what
an artist should be, how he would look, and how he would behave.
And Maynard was a very bright man, had a fine brain, an
original man, and a witty man, which pleased the public very
much. He was the kind the legends cluster about, without his
making any particular effort, wherever he went almost. The role
was kind of cut out for him. And it was in large part true.
But there were not many people who really knew that man. They
enjoyed the figure. And I participated in that, quietly I think.
I don't see myself very plainly there. But I am aware of the fact
that San Francisco really spoiled him. By that I'm saying, and I
Lange: think it's a very important thing to remind people--! hope I
never participate in that kind of thing--that real talents, real
gifts can be minimized by what people do to them. I don't mean
by the man who has the talent, but the men around him. They
exploit him. And never ask really, or expect, the most. Once they
start making a myth about a person, look outj They can do
irreparable damage. I think San Francisco has somewhat done that.
Maybe all cities.
Riess: About itself too.
Lange: About itself, the same kind of thing. You said just what I mean.
The exact kind of thing that San Francisco does to San Francisco,
they did to Maynard.
I was always a little aware of that. And I always felt
that as his wifeand I was devoted to him when I was his wife,
and ht> to me--I really failed him because I never really pushed hard
enough so he would work with his life's blood. He could have been
oh, he gave many people a great deal of pleasure, and his works
did but he could have been a greater man. He had it in him.
Once in a while, in what he'd left behind him, I see it now. Some-
times in a little drawing, a scrap of something, just as plain
as it can be.
Riess: You don't think he realized it?
Lange: Yes, I'm sure he did. He never did pot boilers, he never did. He
never was bogus, certainly no phony, far from it. But never
quite what he could have been.
Lange: He was victimized by his own talents. And that's a dangerous
thing and yet I see it happening over and over again. I can see
how these things develop. What can you do about it? Not very much.
People come up to me now and say, "Oh, how glad I am to meet you,
I've always wanted to meet you." Right away I think "ugh." Then
they go on and say, "You are one of the great photographers of the
world." I am not one of the great photographers of the world, but
that is what is now going around. It is being repeated and repeated
and first thing you know I'll believe it. [Laughter] I know
what it takes to be a great photographer but I can't explain it.
So there I stand and act as though I believed it, or say some
silly deprecating thing just to get by. But this is what people
do to each other. If they would say, "You are really interested
in photography, aren't you, Miss Lange? What do you want to do
with it?" What a chance that would be! What a developing thing
that is to say! Why do people do this thing which really kills
Ricss: There's nowhere to go from there; it's deadening.
Lange: Nowhere to go, and I've seen reputations made by this kind of nonsense,
and I've seen talents die because no one paid any real attention.
People think they're doing something very nice for you when they
hand you this kind of line, and they are not. If more people
had really taken Maynard seriously, really taken him seriously
maybe that's asking too much of human association. The only reason
Lange: it's important is that it happens all the time. And I've seen
people themselves fall for these legends that are manufactured
about them. I see it all the time, and it hurts. I hate to
I myself should have realized my role with him in a
differentway than I did realize it. I myself, I think--! know
now subscribed in part. And had I been more really participating
I could have encouraged him to dip his brush in his own heart's
blood. He was capable of it. I know what he could have been.
And someday some really astute person should collect everything
that man left behind him, and edit it out. It would be a very
interesting and very valuable residue. But the editing that would
have to be done! One of his sons could do it, he has the
judgment to do it, but I wonder if he ever will. He has his own
life to build.
It is one of the things I occasionally think about, the more
I hear people say that they don't want to interfere with people's
lives, or don't want to influence other people. I meet so many
charming people who never interfere with anything, you know, very
nice companions, very popular people, taking responsibility for
nothing! I think now that I should have been a more critical and
less agreeable wife. I should have held him harder to his own
standards, rather than trying to keep life pleasant and satisfactory
Lange: to him.
Riess: It would have meant taking a great deal of your energies away
from your own work.
Lange: Not more than I wasted anyway. I had energy and health in those
days. I had a family to hold together, and little boys to rear
without disturbing him too much, though he was very good to us.
But it was sort of myself and the little boys, and he. It wasn't
so much he and I, and the little boys. I thought I was
protecting him, helping him in his work. He was a very fine
man, Maynard, a very fine man and...
Oh, remember Christmases we had, he was full of his
crazy little jokes and quirks. On this Christmas tree in
here [living room at 1163 Euclid] there is a fish, now tarnished,
that is as old as he is. It was on his first Christmas tree.
And on this little Christmas tree here one of my boys put this
up every year are his cigarette papers. [Laughter] He always had
those little blue packets. I don't know whether you can still
buy those. This one was in the pocket of his coat when he died,
and the boys always put it up. Maynard was full of all kinds
of things that we'd enjoy and laugh at. And he used to sing, "Noel,
noel, may all mine enemies go to hell!" [Laughter]
Riess: What would you say were Maynard Dixon's artistic influences?
Lange: He had a couple of old cowpuncher friends, whose opinion he valued
very highly. One of them was Charlie Russell [Charles Marion Russell,
1865-1926], a great American legendary painter. At that time
Lange: Charlie Russell was a cowpuncher who painted, a very colossal man,
much more of a colossal man than Carl Sandburg, but of that
legendary type. Charlie Russell at that time was not an arrived
man; he was rather a man whose outlook was not very broad. He
had lived his life in the Old West, and he knew it. Maynard
respected him as an American westerner and he also respected his
knowledge of the West, and there would be things Maynard wasn't
sure of, not only details of costuming, but of movements, of things
about the landscape, matters of geography, matters of feel which
Charlie Russell would help him with.
Charlie Russell was a silent man, a man who came dangerously
close to being an Indian, he'd been with them so much. He'd
almost lost his powers of speech because he'd gone over on that side.
The other fellow was named Ed Borein. Ed was a sort
of society cowboy from Santa Barbara. But in their youth he
and Maynard had traveled horseback from Los Angeles to Bozeman,
Montana. I think it was three months they had been on the road
together, and there was a bond between them, and Maynard enjoyed
and in a way was influenced by Ed because Ed was a stickler for
detail. His paintings and drawings and etchings were dreadful
but his knowledge was encyclopaedic.
There were a lot of western figures who would drift through.
There were Indians who Maynard knew well. He had lived with them.
He was deeply, truly influenced by them.
Riess: Authenticity of detail was important to him.
Lange: Yes, he always thought he would like to do a book on American
costume. He was fascinated by that, understood how it was
important, the slant of the heel of a boot. And I often think
when I see how the hat has changed in this modern version of
the western man, how Maynard would not like that Texas hat. He
did not like the influence of Texas on the Far West. That has
taken over now. They wear Texas boots and Texas roll to the brim
of their Stetson. It's the wrong roll. And then there were things
about the guns, and things about the mounts, all manner of things
that had significance, and that one had known.
Ricss: How did he know the West so well?
Langc: He was born in it. He was magnetized by it. He lived it. He
went to the Yosemite when he was ten years old, with his father, in
a wagon, over a wagon trail. There was no one in there. Imagine.
To go with your father in a wagon to Yosemite. He understood
the roll of the plains. He educated himself in it. This was his
world, but curiously enough, when he was with the cowboys he was
the sophisticated artist, while when he was with the artists he
was the cowboy. [Laughter]
Riess: Was it possible for you and Maynard Dixon to have a life that was
really separate from this crowd that adored him and surrounded
Lange: I'm afraid I haven't given it in its true color when you say
Lange: "surrounded by a crowd." He wasn't actually surrounded. Maynard
was a pretty independent man, and our life together was the life
of working individuals. That business of being rather lionized
and spoiled by people was incidental. It was there, an element
in his life that afforded him a good deal of enjoyment as anyone
enjoys having an active place in the world he lives in, you know,
being greeted and enjoyed and lionized. And Maynard was witty
and interesting. Those are qualities that people enjoy. Also,
many artists are spoiled by stupid people, and become kind of
false characters. Now I don't say it applied to Maynard as much
as it has to some very minor artists whom I've known, whose role
people falsify with, "Oh, are you an artist?" or something like
that. Immediately something bad happens. It doesn't happen
to a plumber, it doesn't happen to a nurse, it doesn't happen to
a printer or to an architect, but if someone says, "Are you an
artist?" you know they're unenlightened and it's the second-
raters who always ride it for all its worth.
Well, this Maynard didn't do, but he did have a rather
enviable place in San Francisco Bohemia. Do you know what I
mean by "Bohemia"? There was an era where there was a group of
people who were the bohemians in society. They were not beatniks.
They came before people talked of "liberal" and "conservative."
The bohemians were the free and easy livers. They were the people
who lived accord Ing to their own standards, and did what they wanted
Lange: to do in the way they wanted to do it.
Riess: And they weren't necessarily artists or well-known?
Lange: No, it wasn't synonymous with being artists, but most
people regarded artists as bohemians, therefore they thought
artists could do as they pleased, the rules didn't apply, all that
kind of nonsense and falseness, like these night lights that they
throw on buildingsgreen, an awful green, and yellow, an awful
yellow and they have them on, of all places, Grace Cathedral at
night, where they're putting on a new part, and in order to help
with the fund-raising drive have it night-lit with these horrible
lights. People do that, and they did that more, I think, with
the artists before the end of the thirties. Now it seems to me,
although I may be wrong, that a painter has a rather better place
in life. He goes along with the architect and the engineer and
his works have definite places where they're to be shown, or else
they're so presented. People used to buy pictures and stick
them up on the walls all over. They don't do that anymore. They
buy a picture, or make a small collection.
Riess: Sounds like maybe the WPA had something to do with the change.
Lange: It cpuld have. However, this was the life partly of the Old West,
when you had gold coins in your pockets, silver dollars, money,
income, and Maynard had a very good time. He was never poor
he thought he was--but there was always enough money. He could have
made a lot more money, but there was always enough money.
Riess: Was he making it mostly on the advertising work?
Lange: Well, that started him making money. But after he didn't do
advertising anymore, and he did mural decorations for public
buildings, and he had good jobs and a succession of them, and many
people came to his studio and bought things, it wasn't hard for him.
It was uncertain, and he thought it was hard, oh. boy, he though
it was hard, but he was never poor.
Riess: Was the bohemian crowd the same crowd that came to your studio?
Lange: Oh, no, they were utterly different people. The people that came
to my studio were more the young bloods. They were younger and
having a kind of a good time, a different kind of a time.
Riess: Were Roi and Imogen the kind of people that came?
Lange: Well, no, they were warm, personal friends. They weren't people
in the audience.
Riess: And that's how you saw the people who came to your studio?
Lange: My studio? Oh, Roi and Imogen used to come to my studio, yes, but
they were friends of both Maynard and myself. We were very good
friends, what we call family friends, you know.
Riess: Did you see Johan Hagemeyer?
Lange: He didn't figure in my life or anyone's life that I know. He was
a very imitative person. And I never liked him, personally. When
I say I don't like a person I don't mean that I don't agree with him,
I mean I am personally repelled, as some flowers you like very
much, and some you don't like at all. He's not a first-class
Lange: person, in my opinion, although because I don't like him I never
knew him. That's a curious thing. The people whom we're chemically
repelled by we don't really know anything about. That's a purely
personal matter. I wouldn't want to touch him, skin to skin.
I'd get a rash. [Laughter] So I don't know anything about him,
except I know he was a slavish admirer of Edward Weston, and I
detest those slavish admirers. I've seen too many of them. They
bask in reflected glory. He was a natural born campfol lower.
Edward said something, and Johan was always behind there shaking
his head in affirmation.
Riess: There are three other San Francisco people who are usually mentioned
together in relation to the art association in San Francisco,
Ralph Stackpole, Gertrude Albright, and Gottardo Piazzoni. Did
you know them?
Lange: Now they were figures. I have only really the vaguest recollection
of Gertrude Albright; she doesn't stand in my mind as representing
anything, excepting that she was a faithful teacher at the art
school year in and year out, and I have no doubt that she was a good
teacher. When I say faithful I mean one could put their faith in
her teaching. I'm sure gifted young people would be safe with
her. She might not be a great revolutionary influence in their
lives. That's all I can remember.
Stackpole and Piazzoni, they're different. Both men, I
would say, were touched by greatness, real integrated people.
Lange: Stackpole very lovable, personable, full of charming ways and full
of charming works. I came across a beautiful little drawing of
his the other day, just saturated with Stackpole. I love it. I
love to think of him. Not just with personal affection, but with
respect and regard for--! was about to say for what he was, but I
am told by a friend who has just been with him in France that he
still is just the same in France, that he's doing work that's good
and leading a life that's good, in a little French village, and
enjoying it. But he enjoyed almost everything; he had a great
talent for that.
In what little of his works that remain to be seen 1
don't see his work receding, belonging so tightly to the past. I
look at those figures that he did before the Stock Exchange--one
of ray sons was a model for one of those figures and I can drive
by with Leslie and say, "See that little boy there, that little
stone boy, that's your father"-- and those works are not dated.
Stackpole was a really true man.
Piazzoni was a fine person to know. He was silent where
Stackpole was voluble. He was a deep person, Piazzoni. He was
an Italian peasant who loved to paint. So far as my knowledge
goes, he was an uninfluenced man. Piazzoni was Piazzoni, and
Piazzoni 's paintings were Piazzoni *s paintings. He did some very
beautiful ones. His name has almost slid into oblivion, but I'm
sure one- day someone's going to rediscover him. He did one
Lange: wonderful rendering that no one else had ever been able to paint,
those California brown hills. No one that I know could paint those
hills but Piazzoni. I asked Mrs. Salz, who owned it, where this
painting was, and she said she had given it to the University. They
own it and it probably is dingy, and needs to be brought to life.
Always a Piazzoni was unmistakable. No one could ever say
that this work didn't come out of the profundities of the man's
attitudes, of his experience. He was a real painter. Day after
day, day after day, he'd go into that studio of his, come out
when the whistle blew at noon, go to that Italian restaurant, eat
the same food, in his black hat. And always very nice to pass in
the street. He didn't stop, no art gossiper. He would pass you
and smile. Very methodical. He had a lot of dumb children, and
a dumb wife, and he lived in North Beach as though he were in the
fruit and vegetable business, you know, just the same.
Riess: He wasn't lionized.
Lange: No, but he had a few patrons who saw him through. Mrs.
Ansley Salz was one of them. She was a friend and a patron
to him and she was able to afford to buy his works. Now who
other ones may have been, I don't know. But he lived very quietly.
He died quietly. And very few remember him. Some enterprising
person should revive him. It's difficult to do. But, oh, I can
see him so plainly.
Maynard and "Stack" and Piazzoni had studios in the same
block on Montgomery Street, and saw each other every day in
Lange: passing, and were fond of each other, not in a chummy way, but
they were kind of the kingpins. There was a certain bond between
them, as utterly different as they were. Maynard was the most
spoiled of them because he was the most popular. Piazzoni
wasn't a popular man. Not many people, I think, really generally
would respond to his very quiet, almost religious landscape.
And "Stack," he liked a different kind of a life. But Maynard was
part of the town in that so many people liked the kind of thing that
he did. He represented some version of the West with which they
identified themselves. Not so much his personal west, but Our
West, you know, of which he was a sort of a symbol. And he
dressed that way and he talked that way and in large part he really
was that way.
Riess: Could you name some more of the bohemians?
Lange: Well, there was George Sterling, and there was a newspaper woman
by the name of Annie Laurie, and there was Sydney Joseph and
Emily Joseph, and Charlie Duncan.
Riess: He's the man who was in charge of the artists at Foster and
Lange: Yes, he was the wonder-boy. Funny, there's a kind of a blank that
sets in here. Why is it I can't recall? It would be good to
remember who all those people were--oh, we used to have big parties.
Stackpole, of course, was in that group, and Fremont Older, and
Charles Erskine Scott Wood.
Riess: Was Sara Bard Field there?
Lange: Well, if you mention him you mention her, but she was in the back-
ground of him. Lucian Labaudt was in that group too. He was a
painter and dressmaker. The Labaudt galleries in San Francisco
are named after him.
Riess: This group wasn't at all organized, just friends?
Lange: Oh, not at all. They were, some of them, not even friends, but
they were people who saw each other because they lived in the
same world. They were not buddies or close companions, but they
lived in the same environment, I'd say. And the common denominator
of them was the city of San Francisco.
There was the architect, Timothy Pfleuger, the one who
brought Diego Rivera up here. If you were to go to Coit Tower
you would see all of those names that are signed there, Madame
Jehanne Salinger, the mother of Pierre Salinger, the President's
press secretary, Frank Van Sloun, Nelson Poole, Albert Bender.
Riess: Yes, I meant to ask you about him. I've heard a lot about his
Lange: That was the way he lived and that legend persists after his death.
He had a very remarkable gift for associating with people. One
time he met me on the street and he said to me--you know, he was
little, plain, almost to the point of deformity, and short, and
he had a defect of speech--he put his hand in his pocket and he
Lange: said, "Dorothea, I touch life many angles and many levels."
His conversation was always epigrammatic. One time I
passed him on the street in Chinatown, before my first child was
born, and he was talking to somebody--he always was talking to
somebody--and he put out his hand and stopped me for a moment
and said, "Dorothea, you go in importance." [Laughter]
And he always had presents in his pockets. If you met
him anywhere he would fish into his pockets as though he'd been
looking for you all day and he'd give you some quite beautiful
thing, never trash, a necklace or a button, or something or
other. He was sustained by all these transactions of his.
His art patronage actually was a kind of a joke. (I don't
suppose this will be in other people's memories of him.) The
painters all knew that he was working them to death. He did,
and many things that are in the Albert M. Binder collections around
here are things that he just extorted out of the painters. Not
plain and simple immoral extortion, but he would come and ask them
to give him something for such and such and such and no one could
refuse him. They couldn't refuse him because he was the one who
prodded other people to buy works of art; he had many wealthy
friends, and he was kind of "little friend of the artist."
That was his role in life. A little man, but a great friend of
the artist, and he encouraged many people to buy things. But he
Lange: personal ly--wherever you see "The Albert M. Bender Collection"
he either got them at cut-rate prices or he didn't pay for them
at all. He got away with murder. Unique.
Riess: Why do you think he did that?
Lange: Well, I would say that that was the life he liked. He had created
an existence for himself in that city: very good businessman, an
insurance man, everyone took out their insurance from him; he was
a professional Irishman; and he led this life of association with
the arts simultaneously and I guess he liked the combination.
He was also a man with fine taste. That saved him. If he had
been a vulgarian it would have been bad, but he was a man of
innately fine taste. He was a man probably you would say of
many--well, like a house of many rooms.
He lived, as long as we had known him, with a very fine
woman, a very graceful painter, no earthmover, but a woman who
painted beautifully. Her name there are scholarships and
collections in her name--was Anne Bremer. That was Albert's
love, and they lived together many, many years, in the same
apartment, surrounded by beautiful things. And I think her
presence made him aware perhaps of what he wouldn't have other-
wise known. (I remember the first painting by Lhote I ever saw
they had in their dining-room. There was a very strong Oriental
atmosphere about the place.) He had that behind him and that
relationship, I think, had a wonderful quality. It was a
stabilizing thing. She was shy, she could hardly speak, and she
Lange: hated to go out. And he was the most gregarious man in the
world. He had also a very nice sense of humor. Over his
desk he had a cartoon, which someone had given him maybe it
was on a menu or something and it said, "Here's To Albert And
Other Benders." Well, that legend persists.
He also rather fancied being a patron. He harmed a few
people in this respect. He innoculated Ansel Adams with the idea
that an artist had to develop his patrons, and Ansel became a
"little brother of the rich" there, under Albert's guidance.
Ansel became somewhat their entertainer and it wasn't good for
him. Albert did that and he was very influential in Ansel's
development. Ansel loves him. He was a lovable man, but a very
mixed man. Made you feel good though.
He bought things of mine in the times when no one was
buying photographs. Now they're buying photographs as things, but
at that time no one was thinking of photographs and portfolios
and collections and so on. But he did.
Riess: Were you taking non-portrait photographs then?
Lange: I don't remember what. I don't know exactly what that time was.
Well, I was beginning, and the first group of things I ever sold
to anyone he bought, and gave to the Museum of Modern Art.
He was also one of the few people of that time that didn't
ramble away, he never went to Europe, he was not a cosmopolitan.
!!< was a Snn Kranrlscnn, In- ncvt-r went on a vacation, excepting
Lange: maybe a quick dart down to Carmel to see somebody's paintings
or something; he was always here. Now most of the people who can
afford to do such things like to go to New York and buy or to
Paris and buy. It sets them up in prestige. I see things that
have happened in San Francisco since then and I can trace back
where they happened. Now whenever I see an exhibit in the
museum that says, "From the permanent collection of Mr. and
Mrs. Walter A. Haas," I know it's directly attributable to
Albert Bender. He started Mrs. Stern buying paintings and the
Sterns got caught up with the Gertrude Stein-Paris-
"expatriate" group. But Albert Bender was at the end of
this line; that was the other end of the line. Mrs. Haas has
now got Picassos, and Matissos. As far as I know she has nothing
but certifed art. Albert Bender didn't always have certified art.
He took a plunger once in a while.
Riess: He took a plunger to encourage the artist?
Lange: He was always doing good, very self-consciously doing good.
And he also didn't mind talking to his rich patrons about
helping a poor artist. I've known poor artists who've writhed
under that picture, whether it was true or not.
Among that bohemian group there were also a few genuine
number-one bums, like this fellow who still survives, John
Garth. He was the same then as now. I'm speaking of his character
because I don't think you can do bad art and be a good person.
Lange: His art shows what he is--a shallow, preposterous, vain, stupid man.
There were many others. Why can't I think of them? You
know, sometimes you put a lid on things. Either you put a lid
on, or the times shift abruptly. But there are no connections
left for me, and I don't think I'm the only one who feels that
way. Things have sharply shifted, values have changed.
Riess: You don't see these people now?
Lange: They don't live, most of them. And if they do, they live in
another world. They've taken their place, as I have, in an
altogether different world. And I know once in a while I'll
meet one and they'll say, "What are you doing?" Well, I have no
answer to that because the very fact that they ask me what I'm
doing shows how far apart we've gotten and I can't answer it in
a minute. I'm so associated in their minds with a little piece
of time there and what I've gone on to do has never reached them,
you know. Probably the same holds the other way.
Riess: They have gone on and done things too.
Lange: Well, of course I think I'm the only one! [Laughter] I don't
really mean that, but people do kind of hold to their little
niches, don't they, and yet I didn't. We're speaking of the
twenties and the early thirties and that, of course, is a long
time ago. San Francisco has in some ways changed. Where I see
certain echoes of the San Francisco of that time is when you
go Friday afternoon to the symphony. There you see some of
Lange: the people who were in and out of the art world as patrons, as
interested ones. Have I spoken before of this group? I think
I have. The San Francisco merchant princes. My first patrons.
In all the accounts you read, and all the magazine junk that's
coming out now on San Francisco "the Paris" you know how they
do now, repeating and repeating and repeating the same kind
of comment about it--San Francisco is having a kind of a vogue.
Well, it is a synthetic thing. There's just enough truth in it,
the way they handle it, to make more people do more articles.
Riess: It feeds on itself.
Lange: Yes, that's what I'm trying to say. But I wish someone, when they
went about this, would develop that very important thread in the
development of the city's innate character, that is, this group of
people who as a group contributed very, very much to the warmth
and beauty of the place. Now in most communities that have grown
up or are growing up, the rich people in that community are some-
what isolated, or they are elements in the community that are
behind walls or regarded as non-participants. (I may be wrong
in this, but that's my impression.) But in San Francisco this
group of rich people lived a very warm inter-family life. They
were large families who knew each other, and had a very strong
community sense and that warm, responsive love for many things--
children and education and buildings and pictures, music,
philanthropy- -was their private personal life and their public
Lange: life together. There are vestiges of it; some of them still live
in the same houses. They gave string quartets in their living
rooms or in their drawing rooms, and they educated talent:
Yehudi Menuhin is one they did, Issac Stern is another. They
did these things. They gave money freely.
Riess: They didn't make the mistake of lionizing?
Lange: In Yehudi 's case, no, because he was protected by an eccentric
father. Things have gone very wrong in Yehudi Menuhin 1 s life
as I read it, but it wasn't due to being spoiled as a child,
although he was very highly regarded. He was eight or ten years
old when he gave his first performancel As Isaac stern was.
But also they have encouraged many singers and other people
and they were very great helpers in the building of an interesting
city. Yet they haven't had recognition as far as I know. The
Comstock Lode people, the early silver kings, they're the ones
that get talked about.
Riess: Yes, in a book like Barnaby Conrad's.
Lange: Don't let us speak of it! I writhe at that. This was before the
days of cafe society, before the days of the Barnaby Conrads.
Riess: Herb Caen?
Lange: No, I don't think so. I think Herb Caen is a fellow who has pretty
good and pretty balanced vistas. How he does it every day I and
he doesn' t do it every day but Herb Caen is a fellow who in the
present can look backward and forward and put things together
Lange: pretty well. He's a California boy, you know. He was brought up
in Sacramento, and I don't think he's ever lost that. He's no
import. I personally like him. I'm not speaking of the man, but
of what he does.
Riess: He has a television program now, "Baghdad by the Bay."
Lange: Oh, I've seen that too. He doesn't represent himself at all on
that. He just sits there, and he isn't good in combination with
William Winter. He can't get along with him. But I don't
think of Herb Caen and that. And I also don't think Herb Caen
does well in his books. But what he accomplishes every day, the
look, the angle, his slant, his quick intuitive, his lightning-
quick perception. I feel old, happy memories when I read it, and
I feel that he's a different man than if he were a Boston or
a Chicago man who came out here during the twenties. There are
certain things that creep into that column that only a native
Calif ornian would know and have there, certain things he loves
that imported people don't know.
In the days we're speaking of, in the twenties there,
Arthur Caylor was the man that everybody read. His wasn't a
clever chitchat column, but it was a column about what was going
on, people, events, controversial matters. It still is in the San
Francisco News Call-Bulletin, but he's forgotten. What Arthur
Caylor said every day was discussed just as what Frankenstein
[Alfred Frankenstein, San Francisco Chronicle critic] says about
Lange: the symphony is discussed and "Did you read Herb Caen yesterday?"
The same thing.
Three Southwestern Expeditions
Riess: Is it correct to say that Maynard Dixon began to be a painter
Lange: Up to that time he had been doing designing in any media, for
many purposes, advertising drawing a lot of it. Then in 1920
he decided he was going to be a painter. But what he really
meant when he said he was going to be a painter (he'd work in
watercolors, perhaps, or sometimes in black and white) was that he
was going to devote himself to serious images that stood by them-
selves, that were for their own sake. And he was going to devote
his whole life to it. He didn't use the word artist, though.
Painter, not artist. Yes, that's about the time he did it.
Riess: Would you tell me about traveling in the Southwest with Maynard?
Lange: Maynard and I were married in 1920. And it was his life's practice
to go on painting expeditions as often as he could. San Francisco
was his base, and he would go on sketching trips--that 's what they
were. He would announce that he was going on a sketching trip in
six weeks. Well, it took him forever! He was one of those people
Lange: who never could get off! We were always meeting people who'd
say, "I thought you were in New Mexico." And Maynard would
say, "I'm going next week." Next month he'd still be around]
It was interminable. Then he was always going "for a month
or six weeks," but he never came back inside of four months.
His trips were practically disappearances as far as the San
Francisco life was concerned. He was just either there, or
he was gone. And he was a great worker wherever he was. He
was an industrious man who had good hands, good tools, and he
could turn his hands to anything.
It was only on a few of these trips that I was able to go,
because before I had children I had activities I couldn't afford
to leave, commitments, I mean. And after I had children, it wasn't
easy to do. And besides that, I was never quite sure enough of
what our livelihood would be, and I wanted to this sounds as
though I'm putting a very good light on my own motives, but
as I look back it's true I wanted to help him. See, I helped
him the wrong way; I helped him by protecting him from economic
difficulties, where I shouldn't have done that; I should have .
helped him in other ways. It wasn't necessary, but I guess it
was for his security, and my thought was that if there wasn't
any money my work would keep us afloat, would keep us going.
You know, it constantly comes up. The things you do, when you
wnnt to do what's right, so often are so wrong. [Laughter]
Lange: I shouldn't have done that.
I knew that this man though actually while he loved
me and was very, very good to me, still didn't share the
depths of his life with me. When he went, that was what was
good for him to do; he didn't need me. At that time I didn't
know what it was to live with a person who shared their life
Riess: And so you didn't feel a lack.
Lange: No, I didn't. I missed him when he was gone. I was glad when
he came back. It was more exciting, more interesting when he
But I wasn't really involved in the vitals of the man,
not in the vitals. Well, maybe we don't always have to touch
the vitals, but now I know what it is to live with someone
with whom you really live, who will share, or wants to share.
That's a terrific thing. Perhaps the reason that I was never
able to give Maynard an uncomfortable time, which he should
have had, at some junctures, was that I never felt courageous
enough or felt the need. I wasn't brave enough. Courage is
the greatest thing. All these things we need to live with--
"Good will toward men," "Peace on earth"--are sublime, but
courage is it. Makes trouble, but to live with courage opens
up distant worlds. I don't know so many people who do.
Riess: It opens up the possibility of encountering some part of the
Riess: other person which might disturb your own well-being, so
there is a fear attached to this stirring-up.
Lange: That's it. I know. It destroys a certain peace and harmony,
you know, that's always held before us as being so desirable,
and i so desirable. Well, especially with an artist it's a
Riess: In his studio did he work from the sketches done on these
Lange: Yes, that was his modus operand!. He would bring back a lot
of things, all sketched, never anything that was done excepting
as direct response to what surrounded him.
Riess: Have those sketches been saved?
Lange: They're sold. They're all over. There's very little left.
I actually don't know where it all went. Those sketches made
direct have been very popular and people have collected them
and enjoyed them. They're easy to live with too. I wish
I had here to show you a wonderful drawing that he made, on
a piece of onion-skin paper, of a landscape in which he made
the color-notes. Dan has it. As a portrait of him, it's just
great. I have a very nice portfolio of his that I enjoy: with
the little boys, instead of telling them a story, he would
draw them a story, because he was so visual. They'd start it
and he would draw it, and they would add. That kind of thing he
was often doing, and did very well. I have a whole book of
Lange: these things that are so enjoyable. I accidentally scooped
up a few, never carefully making a selection, and I use them
with the grandchildren now, and they love them.
Riess: Can they tell what the story is just by looking at the pictures?
Lange: Some of them they can, the rest they make up stories around.
He also did a children's book which is out of print now, but
which many people enjoyed very much, called Injun Babies,*
very moral little tales of Indian babies who got into trouble.
They were actually letters that he wrote to his daughter,
Constance, when he was separated from her and off on a trip
and she was in a precarious situation with her mother. I have
no copy here, or I'd show it to you. It's old now, but it
was an awfully nice thing. The Indian girl, A-way-she-go
was a runaway; and 0-s6-sti-ki was a girl who got into the
honey bees; and Me-n6-kan was a boy who always said he couldn't
do things, and so on they go. Very charming stories.
Riess: You did go on some of the sketching trips to the Southwest
with Maynard, didn't you?
Lange: I went on a few of the big ones. They all were big ones, but
I didn't go on those ones where Maynard said he was going to
go for two or three weeks, because I always thought it was going
*G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 1923.
Lange: to be two or three weeks instead of two or three months, and
there were other reasons. And after 1925, of course, I had little
I went on one in 1923 to Arizona and we were gone four
months, and we lived at a trading post eighty miles away
from a railroad at a place called Kayente. Now it is accessible
to automobiles, but at that time you could go in only once a
week in a Ford when the mail went in. Toward the end of the
time we moved to another post, a trading post in the Navajo
reservation, called Redlake.
You can gather from this account that I was not a traveled
person, that I always had rather immediate duties and had never
before made expeditions like this. We went into a country which
was endless, and timeless, and way out and off from the pressures
that I thought were part of life. The earth, and the heavens,
even the change of seasons, I'd never really experienced until
that time. Then I became aware.
On the second trip we were gone two months and we
were camped at the base of Walpi Mesa, guests there of a very
well-known California millionaire, Anita Baldwin. Anita Baldwin
was a strange person. She was a recluse, but she had a lively
history. She was the only daughter of Baldwin. He was quite
a swashbuckler and left many millions in real estate and mines
and hotels and horses and oh lord! many illegitimate children.
Lange: Anita was the legitimate one and she adored him. She was a
strange one and yet a very beautiful, very wonderful creature
if you came up on one side of her.
Anita and Maynard were quite good friends, and she would
come up to San Francisco, maybe twice a year, and visit him in
his studio. She was kind to me and tolerated me, but their
friendship way antedated me. She would take a lot from him.
She was very silent and he used to tease her and treat her
like a friend--which I don't think she had much of because she
didn't really know how to be one. She would do unexpected things.
She was always surprising.
One of the unexpected things she did was to ask us to
go to the Indian country with her, because she had an idea that
she wanted to write an Indian opera. She had, in her quiet,
secret way, indulged herself in writing music, and she had this
impulse--! don't know how strong this thing was in her and I
never knew what came of it, though I don't think much. She
asked Maynard and me to go with her. Well, that was quite some-
thing. We were to be gone two months; we were to camp there. And
we were to leave for the trip in two weeks. I don't know how we
did it, but we did it.
She said we had nothing to think about at all; that
everything would be attended to and we were just to meet her
in Los Angeles, where she lived. She sent me a check for $250
Lange: to buy a pair of riding boots and I made that $250 stretch
over quite a few things! I remember I had a pair of riding
boots, old and scuffed, but they would suffice. At any rate, we
went to Los Angeles, to her house and spent the night there. We
were to leave the next day, but not a word was said about the
trip ahead. Plans for what we were going to do? It was as
though we were just there for a dinner party and to spend the
night. Initially, she had a personal bodyguard. And he was
always armed, that was one of her eccentricities. She also had
a small pearl-handled revolver in her handbag, which was
always in her lap, and the reason for this she told me--I
asked her once long afterwardswas that the value of the
jewelry that she customarily wore warranted the presence of a
bodyguard and a gun in the handbag. But what a way to live!
You can imagine.
Well, the next morning we set out for "parts unknown" in
Arizona in a private railway car with two cooks, two chefs,
two stewards, the bodyguard, and Maynard and I and Anita, with
all the blinds drawn, so no one could look in. There we sat.
This railway car was very ornately decorated in all kinds of
bizarre motifs. It was very dull traveling, I remember, hot
going down there.
Riess: You couldn't open the blinds or windows?
Lange: It wasn't permitted, because we traveled incognito.
Riess: At sixty miles an hours.
Lange: Yes, but incognito. When we would get to a main station, like
Santa Fe, we went into a siding, and we weren't allowed to
get off the train because someone might discover who we were.
I found out what it's like to be very very rich so that you
are bombarded and rather notorious--that combination--and what it
is like to have so much fear that nothing could be enjoyed.
Well, we got to Flagstaff at two in the morning. All
the plans had been made by her purchasing agent, and meeting
us on the freight stand were cases and cases and cases with
her initials on them in which was our camping stuff. And
nobody, not even Anita, knew what was in it. We were to travel
from Flagstaff to our campsite which was to be at the foot of
Walpi Mesa, a good long way, and it was raining. We sat in the
car, and the steward came to say a man was there to see us. It
was a fellow by the name of Bill Williams, who was a truck
driver, and with him was a boy by the name of Eddy, who was
another truck driver. Bill Williams and Eddy had been contracted
for to drive us in to our campsite, and they had an old White
truck, a real "Arizona equoid." Eddy drove one truck, Bill
drove the other. That Bill Williams was a real Arizona cowboy,
the very best; he took everything in his stride. But when
he saw this mountain of things--! don't know whether you've
ever traveled in that country, but you travel light and cars
Lange: half the time can't get in because when the rain comes the
roads wash away and you have to wait--Bill Williams looked at
that stuff and said, "Do we have to pack this in?"
Well, Anita and I found ourselves sitting in the little
truck with Eddy, and the big truck, loaded to the heavens,
wobbled down the road ahead of us in the pouring rain bearing the
bodyguard, Bill, Maynard, and the load. Off we set in
the middle of the night into this wilderness area, which is
what it was at that time. And the rains got worse and worse
and the washes washed and the rivers got higher and higher
until finally there was one that Bill Williams came back from
looking at and said, "We can't get across. We have to wait till
Se we camped and waited till morning, but the river sas
still very high and in order to get on Bill said, "We've got
to pack the stuff over on our backs." So the men packed box by
box over. And Anita, stony-faced, sitting next to me, watching
all this, said not a word, not a laugh, nothing. Finally we
heard Eddy say, "Now we gotta pack the old woman over." And
Anita gathered herself together and opened her umbrella and went
over like a queen, carried over by two men making a saddle
of their hands. Never a word, not a sound of complaint. She
was very adequate. Nothing could ruffle her.
When we got there those things were unpacked, and you
Lange: wouldn't believe what there was in those boxes. The lavish
camping equipment' All the tents--and there were about ten
of themwere shaped like Chinese pagodas. The food was the
most elaborate canned stuff, and I was the cook. No prep-
arations in any way, just cans. This purchasing agent had just
gone down-- like going over an Abercrombie and Fitch catalogue
and had just ordered. Caviar! And there we were to be for a
month. Well, in every camping expedition there's always a
settling-down period. We had one, while I learned to cook for
the combination of tastes of Bill Williams, Eddy, that body-
guard, and Anita. It was a weird experience.
Among the nightly events were the visits of the Indians
who lived at the top of the mesa. She paid them to come down
and sing and every night they came down, en masse, singers,
old men, young men. We could hear them starting up there when
it got dark. We could hear drums as they'd come down the trail
and often they sang all night.
Of course, she way overpaid them, so that they became
her Indians. That's bad. She also did an outrageous thing,
which she didn't mean to do. Somebody had told her that the
Indians liked ocean sand, so she sent in a big box of white
ocean sand, which is sacred to them and which they use in sand
paintings and in many things. But she brought in too much. And
peacock feathers are very important, very special in their
mythology. But by the time we'd been there a month every little
Lange: kid had peacock feathers. That's what she did. That was
typical of her.
The snake dance came during the month we were there. All
the photographers and the people that attend that snake dance
annually took pictures not of the Indians, but of us! We were
the interest there! Oh lord! Maynard ducked it nicely. As
always, he did his work well, and he was fond of Anita and she
trusted him. I think he must have been a great relief to her.
People do toady to someone who has such immense wealth and such
a reputation for throwing it away. A lot of people are wealthy,
but she had a reputation of doing anything that came into her
head, you know, often not judging very well. The things she
might have done she didn't see.
Well, it was over finally, and we went home. We had
a very eventful trip home, again with storms, in which she
behaved marvelous ly, because she had to sit up two nights. I
won't go into all this trip back. But we came out by way of
Gallup, where the railway car was to meet us, and when we got
there the stewards were drunk, the cooks were gone, and nobody
had done a thing in that car so the dust was an inch thick!
Imagine hew it would get, sitting in a railway siding. And
instead of being able to go and buy a ticket and go home in
a Pullman after this camping, we had to sit in Gallup for a
day waiting for the car to be cleaned, equipped, and the
Lange: commissary taken care of. And the stewards had to get rid
of their hangovers. The cooks showed up finally and we went
on. She never said a word. It was just like facing the facts
of life. But rigid, you know, with no give. It was kind of like
a formula. This delay was the result of certain things that
she insisted on, you know, so she couldn't really protest the
I then found that we were to detour and stop at the
Grand Canyon on the way back, for some reason, and we went into
the Harvey House there where they sell Indian objects. It isn't
a curio store, it's better than that. I don't know how it is
now, but then George Harvey had a reputation for having one
of the finest collections of Indian art there was. Some of it
was for sale; most of it was exhibited down there at the
Harvey House. Anita walked in and there was a young Navajo
salesman who smelled money, I guess, and in order to ingratiate
himself and be awfully pleasant he preceded to tell us the
saga of some party that was camping up in the Hopi country,
and told us a whole yarn, from beginning to end, about ourselves.
Anita just stood there and looked at him and listened to this
description of herself as she appeared at the snake dance
because she wore kind of pear-shaped jodphurs and a long
chiffon veil and an Egyptian helmet! Well, when he got all
through she said just, "Yes." And then she walked around that
Lange: place and she said, "I would like to have this and I would like
to take this, and this," and she bought eight thousand dollars
worth of things in about ten minutes, and then walked out,
and never told him what he'd done.
She, by the way, did buy from Maynard, at three or
four different times, large paintings, and she bought them
I would say with some discretion. And never, never did she buy
anything merely to help him out. It was very good that way.
The last one she bought when it was only half done, and I've
always been puzzled about that because it was one of the most
ambitious things, in concept, that he ever did. To me it was
much finer when it was half-done than when it was done. That's
characterisitc of me. I generally have more faith in something
that isn't finished. In anything, I enjoy it better before it's
signed and delivered. There's such a finality about it then.
But if it's half-done it means, who knows what's ahead? It's
still alive. This particular painting I've always been curious
about. I don't know whether he did accomplish it, or whether
he didn't. Generally Anita bought paintings that were very
colorful and strong in pattern and design. She liked that;
that's what she answered to. When she died she left, or her
In later revision of the manuscript, Dorothea Lange said,
"Too much about Anita. It wasn't that important." [Ed.]
Lange: son Baldwin gave, three paintings to the Los Angeles Museum.
In all these years I've never gone down to see them. But
that last painting is the one I'd like to see.
The Brooklyn Museum has it. Three years ago I went to
the Brooklyn Museum to try to buy it from them because I
wanted to give it to my boys. A painting owned by a museum
which has a large collection spends most of its hours in
the caves. They bring it out when they show their permanent
collection or when combinations of things are shown. It is
a custodianship of a sort, but it is also a morgue. This
particular painting is quite fine. Knowing the innards of
his work as I know them, this represented him well. I'm
glad that painting exists. But they wouldn't sell it to me.
Riess: Who did she marry?
Lange: She married a man by the name of McLaurie, who wasn't good
to her. McLaurie left her with two children. But after she
was separated from him she took the name Baldwin, and her son's
name is Baldwin Baldwin. You see it occasionally. He goes
in for all kinds of very sporty things. He was a spoiled and
petulant young man. I always though he had something in him,
but his mother was really too soft with him.
Oh, she had a turbulence. She did all kinds of things,
many that had to do with horse-racing. The Santa Anita racetrack
is where the old house was, and named for her. She gave all
Lange: her stables to the United States government after World War
I. They made her an honorary colonel and she had her portrait
painted in uniform!
That, anyway, was the second trip. The third trip
was in 1930 or 1931 when we lived in Taos, New Mexico, for
eight months with the two little boys.
Riess: This was the first time you had taken them?
Riess: Did you put them in a school there?
Lange: No. We lived in a Mexican house on the edge of a pueblo, old
Taos-style, and we stayed there way into the winter. This
was at the onset of the Depression. We weren't there because
of the Depression but because Maynard wanted to paint and there
was enough money to see us through. The outside world was
full of uncertainty and unrest and trouble and we got in
that car and we went and stayed there.
Riess: He painted then, as well as sketching?
Lange: Yes, that was a long enough session. Mabel Dodge Luhan, the
queen of the Southwest at that time, who had many houses and
many homes and studios that she gave to people- -she was married
to Tony Luhan, the Pueblo Indian, and she was a person of
notoriety, publicity, fame, all those things, had written several
books, and she was a sort of an inspirational person--she had a
big studio she let Maynard have, although we didn't live in it.
Lange: He went there every day to paint. And I took care of the
family. Constance, Maynard's daughter, was with us. We lived
the life that the visiting artists lived then in that little
hamlet. It was a hamlet then. Now it is a mecca for tourists,
especially vacationers from Texas and Oklahoma. All the people
who knew old Taos decry new Taos.
There I saw for the first time, in the beginning of
winter, this thing that was living by barter. Indians,
Mexicans, poor whites, natives, all would come to that square
in Taos on Saturday afternoons and bring their produce, their
red beans and pinto beans, their piflon nuts, their dried
corn, some weaving, flour, eggs, lamb, hides, and there they
bartered. I remember well all those wagons, and those horses
with the horse blankets over them, and the people all bundled
up. When it began to get dark they would still be bartering.
We used to shop there too, but we would buy for money.
That period in Taos was a very good time for me. I
learned many enriching things. I don't remember Maynard's
output very well. I don't know how much he came back with or
what it was for him, but I knew he liked it. Why did we leave?
The snow got very deep. We were living in two rooms. I don't
remember that the living got too hard, but I remember that it
was impossible for Maynard to work in the big studio in winter.
He used to paint with three layers of clothes and two pair of
Lange: gloves. We left in deep snow one glittering January day,
not very experienced drivers, the first ones to go down the
canyon where if we had gone off we would have gone down to
the Rio Grande River. We broke that trail. That was one
of the most adventuresome things. I went to the Andes last
summer [Ecuador, 1960, P.S.T], and over the Andes Mountains
into the Amazon Basin, but it wasn't anything like going
down from that plateau that Taos is down to Santa Fe, seventy-
five miles in deep snow with your life in your hands. A
beautiful day. I'll never forget it.
There's another thing in Taos I'll always remember.
A man in a Ford used to drive by almost every morning. I
saw this very sober, serious man driving with a purpose down
the road and I wondered who he was. I thought he was an
artist, but he went by always at the same time, and at the
same time of night he would come back. "Who is that man?"
It was Paul Strand. And it was the first time I had observed
a person in my own trade who took his work that way. He had
private purposes that he was pursuing, and he was so methodical
and so intent on it that he looked neither to the right nor the
left. He went down that road and he came back at night.
I've seen many of the photographs that he produced then and
that was one of his good periods. Those photographs are still
being used. T always feel that I know something about them
Lange: because I remember his going back and forth. I didn't know who
he was, I only thought, "That is a serious man. What is he
doing?" I didn't until then really know about photographers
who went off for themselves. All the photographers I'd known
always were with a lot of other people, but somehow this was
a lone man, a solitary. Later on when I knew Paul Strand in
New York he told me he knew I was there. But he never spoke
Riess: What were you photographing?
Lange: I did almost nothing. I have to hesitate before I say that I was
too busy. Maybe I kept myself too busy. But that thing that
Pual Strand was able to do, I wasn't able to do. Women rarely
can, unless they're not living a woman's life. I don't know
whether I was temperamentally sufficiently mature at that
time to have done it. At any rate, I didn't have the chance.
I photographed once in a while when I could, but just a little.
Riess: The environment?
Lange: Yes. I photographed some of the architecture, the buildings,
but people have done that much better before and after me.
Riess: Could you help Maynard in his work, recording details, by doing
this sort of photography?
Lange: I could be of help to Maynard mostly by keeping everything
smooth and being happy and making it an enjoyable time and
taking care of the three children. I baked and cooked and
you know when there's deep snow on the ground you're kept
Lange: busy. The gloves, the galoshes, the wet clothes you put them
on and you take them off. And I used to drive him to where
he was working, and drive him back those short winter days.
In the summer time we had guests because we had a big place out
of town there. I couldn't work then, really. When I say I
couldn't work... of course, if I had stated my terms with
life I could have, and to this day I would say the same.
Riess: Did Maynard change in this environment? Could you feel closer
to him because the pressures of life in San Francisco were
gone in this free, open place?
Lange: Well to some degree, yes. He was always able to live a simple
life. Not all people can. He could, and liked it. Maynard
savoured the fundamentals. But remember that outside the world
was just in smithereens, economically. And we knew we had
to go back into it again, not knowing what was going to happen.
So that was present, even though we had pulled out of it
temporarily. I think that there were insecurities present
that influenced his direction, in that perhaps he could have
used that time to more effect. I don't remember, really, what
we came back with. Perhaps if I dug into my mind I could
remember. I have the feeling now that it was a good time for us
as people, for the little boys, for me, and for Maynard, it was
a good time, but I don't know that it was one of his best
painting periods. It could have been. His best painting period
Lange: came later, maybe as a result of it. These are very difficult
things to know, or remember.
Riess: But it was a better time for the family itself.
Lange: Yes. Things changed very much for Maynard for the next year
or two years because when we came back we were confronted
immediately with the terrors of the Depression at that time.
Not that we didn't have enought to eat, but everyone was so
shocked and panicky. No one knew what was ahead. I had put
the boys in school. I thought that financially I'd better.
Riess: But wasn't boarding school more expensive?
Lange: Not more expensive than running a house and two studios.
We put the boys in a day school in San Anselmo where they
had arrangements for boarding pupils. John was only four and
Dan was only seven and this was very, very hard for me to do.
Even now when I speak of it I can feel the pain. I carry
these things inside, and it hurts me in the same spot that it
We didn't rent a house. I lived in my studio and
Maynard lived in his, three buildings away, at 728 Montgomery
Street. It was a famous studio building, just last year converted,
but up to last year it remained perfectly the same. They took out
those beautiful walnut balustrades. Everybody used to slide
down them. Not only childrenl And Maynard was in this most
famous studio of them all. You went up one flight, then there
Lange: was a long landing, then up another flight, and it was at the
end. That studio was fine for him.
When we came back I lived at 802 Montgomery Street,
which was about half a block away, on the corner, in a building
which has also been converted. Addie Kent was on one side of
me there; Albert Barrows was there; Jacques Schnier was there.
I had that studio before we went to Taos. My brother rented it
for me while I was gone, and he wrote me a letter- -he was
very proud of himself that he had done this and it would help
outthat he had rented it for thirty-five dollars a month.
He thought that would be a great surprise when we came back
to have this money. Well, so it was, because when I went into
that studio--oh, no I'd known before that because friends had
sent me the newspaper clippings the fellow to whom he had
rented it, some kind of maniac, tried to commit suicide there,
unsuccessfully. He cut his throat and his wrists, and the
indications of what he'd tried to do were there. The police
got him and he was very drunk and so on. But it was all
in the paper, including my name, and also, before this fellow
did this, he had gone on a rampage with Prussian blue paint, and
to this day I don't like Prussian blue as a color. He had taken
it and he had just daubed wherever he felt like it. I had a
portfolio of drawings, original drawings, some of them Diego
Rivera had given me, and this maniac has improved on the drawings
Lange: in Prussian blue. Can you imagine an example of vandalism
worse? Irreplaceable things. I picked up that portfolio
and I looked through it once, and I just burned it. There
was nothing that I could salvage. I'm a great collector of
wonderful odds and ends, of things in the graphic arts, and
this was my own little private collection. And they went!
INTO THE PRESENT, FUTURE- -"THE LIFE THAT BEATS"
Lange: Although my mind was over in San Anselmo most of the time and
I didn't like to be separated from the children, it drove me
to work, and I worked then as I would not have done, I am
sure, if I had gone back into my habitual life. Thorp in my
studio on Montgomery Street I was surrounded by evidences
of the Depression. I was on the corner where the sun came
in and I remember well standing at that one window and just
watching the flow of life. Up from the waterfront it came
to that particular corner, that junction of many different
things. There was the financial district to the left, China-
town straight ahead, and the Barbary Coast and the Italian
town. The unemployed would drift up there, would stop, and I
could just see they did not know where next. After that the
flow of the channel broke because of the hill ahead.
The studio room was one flight up and I looked down as
long as I could and then one day I said to myself, "I'd
better make this happen," and that started me. I made a print
and put it on the wall to see what reaction I would get, and I
Lange: remember well the customers' common reaction was, "Yes, but
what are you going to do with it?" I hadn't the slightest
Now I have many visitors, young photographers with
portfolios under their arm, many who I know are confronted
with, "What are you going to do with it?" And remembering
that, I feel justified in saying, "Don't let that question
stop you, because ways often open that are unpredictable,
if you pursue it far enough. Don't relinquish it." Most
young photographers don't because they want too quickly
to make a name for themselves. Things are very often apt
to be regarded as a vehicle for making a name for yourself.
But the way it happened with me, I was compelled to photograph
as a direct response to what was around me.
I realize that in an account such as I'm giving,
because it's supposed to be history, names are kind of welcomed
and they're important. They are the connective tissue between
one account and another. And they make a tapestry out of
something that might just be a fragment. However, I'm sure
that actually artists don't influence artists, unless they're
promoters. Artists are controlled by the life that beats in
them, like the ocean beats in on the shore. They're almost
pursued; there's something constantly acting upon them from
Lange: the outside world that shapes their existence. But it isn't
other artists' work, or other artists; it's what belongs to
the artist as a solitary. So so many accounts of artists have
a bogus quality to me because that part's left out, and only
their social relationships are told, which is, I think, an
erroneous way of telling it. The social relationships sometimes
bolster their existence, but are also something that's apt to
interfere with their development. I've seen quite often where
it encroaches and takes too much place.
Well, that window and a few weeks at Fallen Leaf in
1934 when I made decisions, really got me going in the direction
of the kind of photography for which at the time there was
no name. They call it "documentary" now, and though it isn't
a good name, it sticks to it. I don't like it, but I haven't
been able to come up with a substitute. Beaumont Newhall
plagues me with this because he is the best photographic
historian we have and he doesn't like the word "documentary"
either. He thinks it's too late to change it but maybe we could
if we could come up with the elusive right one. But that
was the very beginning of documentary photography. People
often tell me I was the first one and of course that's nonsense.
When you're in a thing you find there were people there a
hundred years ago! But the impulse that I had didn't stem
from anyone else. It wasn't that I felt that since so and so
Lange: has done this somewhere else I could do it here. I went out
just absolutely in the blind staggers. I had something to do.
And I've really kept to it pretty much without an interruption.
Certainly I've never been stopped in it because of lack of
opportunity. The only thing that's kept me from doing better at
it has been that I didn't do as well as I might have. But
the opportunities have been many and therefore I feel safe
when I tell the young man with the portfolio to push it, to
stay with it, to develop it.
Riess: Do you think that if you hadn't been in this location at this
time you wouldn't have done the photography that you did?
Lange: No, all I'm saying about that window is that it stays in my
memory because I see it and I remember what has happened
in my life through moments that I remember visually. I do say,
however, that if the boys hadn't been taken from me by
circumstances I might have said to Myself, "I would do this,
but I can't because..." as many women say to themselves over
and over again, which is one reason why men have the advantage.
I was driven by the fact that I was under personal turmoil to
Riess: Did you go to Fallen Leaf before or after this beginning?
Lange: That was after; it was the following summer. The boys were
with us, and the Partridge twins were with us, and we lived
on Anita Baldwin's estate up there, in a hunting lodge across
Lange: the lake. She gave it to us for the summer, and we had a good
summer there. Absolutely no one was permitted on that estate,
not a human soul but us. You had to go through four gates,
and there were all kinds of signs about trespassers, and all
this business, and when you got in it was wonderful. Maynard
built a sweathouse there and the Partridge boys ran around
naked all summerall these skinny kids with red hair. Oh
boy, we had a fine time. And I started to photograph some of
the natural forms that I liked very much. I tried to photograph
the young pine trees there, and I tried to photograph some stumps,
and I tried to photograph in the late afternoon the way the
sunlight comes through some big- leaved plants with a horrible
name, skunk cabbage, with big pale leaves and the afternoon
sun showing all the veins. I tried to photograph those things
because I liked them, but 1 just couldn't do it. And I then
decided that when I went back to the city I would only photo-
graph the people that my life touched. I discovered that that
was my area. Difficult as it was, I could freely move in that
area, whereas I was not free when I was trying to photograph
those things which were not mine.
Nowadays I am asked often to pick out "eight of my
photographs" which best represent my work, and no group that I
ever make up really comes close to me without the inclusion of
one of the photographs that I made in the early days when I first
Lange: got out on the street. There are two that I made then that
appear over and over again, and I'm willing that they should.
They were made when I was just gathering my forces and that
took a little bit because I wasn't accustomed to jostling about
in groups of tormented, depressed and angry men, with a camera.
Now I could do it much more easily because I've learned a lot
about doing it, and I've confidence in people that they will
trust in me.
At that time I was afraid of what was behind me--not
in front of me. And even now, if I go into any public place, I
want to be where I know what's behind me. I never want to sit
in the middle of a restaurant because I'm very, very sensitive
about my back. Really it's my camera I was so afraid about.
I thought someone might grab it from the back and take it away
or hit me, from the back. I was not always so sensitive about
my back; I became that way when I worked in crowds of people
with the camera. Curious, isn't it?
Riess: How about your experience as a girl stepping over Bowery
bums. Didn't that serve as preparation?
Lange: That helped. I might never have tried it at all without that
background. You quickly forget yourself in your desire to do
something that needs to be done. And people know that you are
not taking anything away from them.
I assigned myself the task of photographing the May Day
Lange: demonstrations at Civic Center. I knew there was a great deal of
trouble abroad, and that there were going to be demonstrations
at the Civic Center by the unemployed, and I said to myself,
"I can't afford (money) to do this and I shouldn't, but I want
to. But if I'm going to go and photograph this, then I've
got to set limits on how much. I've got to photograph it,
develop it, print it, get it out of my system, in twenty-four
hours. I can't let it spill over." The fact that I felt
the need to portion my work means that it must have been
spilling over and taking more of my time and energy than I
could afford. I photographed those demonstrations and the
next day they were on the wall, done and mounted, and those
pictures are still in use. That was May Day of 1933. Last
year I made a portfolio which the New York Public Library
bought from me, hundreds of photographs that I made in the
Depression years outside of the government things. I was
surprised when I made the selection and edited them out, how
many times I went back and got out another one I'd made in that
twenty- four hour period.
I also photographed that 1934 longshore strike. I
remember being up at Fallen Leaf and thinking back at the
longshore strike, thinking, "What am I doing up here?" "I
should be down there." That was the time when the communists
were recruiting. We hear very much since the McCarthy days of
Lange: people who've been pilloried for becoming communists in that
period in history. That was the period when that was happening.
I remember people coming to where I was living in those years,
strangers who'd make an appointment and come and visit you and
broach this business, asking you then to come with them to a
meeting where you would be interested to meet so-and-so or
Riess: Were these party meetings, or communist front organizations?
Lange: These were party meetings. You wouldn't be told at the first
visit that they were party meetings. You would be somewhat
flattered and cajoled and it was dangled before you as some-
thing that a person like you would be interested in. Of course,
having made photographs of this I would be valuable. So I had
many encounters with this thing which has since become so
familiar and which so many people of very good intentions, the
best intentions, the best people, couldn't say "no" to. And
the reason I didn't go any further with it was because Maynard
was so "leery." He was less socially moved than I. Maynard
was a Californian to the extent that he believed in the lynch
laws. He believed in taking the law in your own hands if you
didn't like it. The days of the vigilantes were still very
alive to him. He really thought it was the way to do; I
disagreed with this. But in this business of going in with
groups and joining what wasn't really called "undercover communism"
Lange: at all. I don't remember any particular thing he said but I
know he dissuaded me.
Think what would have happened to me had I I That was
very important in those years. 1 have friends who did. In
fact, I'm not sure that it wasn't the right thing to do in
those days. I'm not sure that there wasn't very much to be
said for participating in groups of people who were ready to
take action. It's a blot on the history of our country that
that thing was so perverted. The fear and the paralysis that it
has caused is one of the worst things, and I think we are
paying for it over and over and over again.
Riess: What could you visualize happening to these pictures that you
were taking? Did you think of exhibitions?
Lange: No, I never thought exhibition-wise. I have to force myself to
do it now, even.
Riess: You were still doing portraits to make money, weren't you?
Lange: Yes, I was taking portraits to finance this other work, and to
take care of the boys, or rather to contribute toward taking
care of the boys. Maynard and I didn't make any divisions,
but I did everything that I could, and he did what he could.
We never had any kind of reckoning on that, but I knew that
one work had to take care of the other work. And it was a kind
of release to me, I guess, in a way. I don't know, though,
what I thought would happen to these pictures. I remember
Lange: thinking along in those years how good it would be if I could
get a job and devote myself completely to doing that kind of work
without the strain of trying to maintain it on other work,
like the portrait business, the strain of doing two kinds of
I guess it wasn't long before people became interested
in that. By 1935, I think, I went to work doing it wholly. I
was employed as a typist by the state relief administration,
because then they couldn't put me on as [i.e. had no provision
for me as] a photographer. And I only worked for them photo-
graphing migratory workers for about six months; after that I
worked intermittently for the federal government until 1945,
almost only for the federal government; and then I went to the
hospital. The next nine years, as far as work is concerned
I have almost nothing. It's a blank, because I just barely
made it, and since then I have been, I would say handicapped,
which I would be anyway because you know you can't do quite as
much in your sixties as you could in your forties, but I'm more
handicapped than just that. I have serious limitations health-
wise, and there's no way out of it.
In impulses and outlook I've not changed; what has
changed is the attitude of the public to such efforts, because
photo- journalism arose in those years. There was no such thing
as photo- journal ism before about 1935. The picture magazines
Lange: came into existence then, and certainly that is allied with
documentary photography. And the enormous development of the
camera in the hands of amateurs is allied with it. The medium,
the instrument, has developed many, many uses, and people's awareness
of the power of the visual image and the visual record in many ways
has been kindled. My labors in the years we were speaking of were
just at the beginning of this great burst, and I came in on the
crest of that, and contributed to it also.
Documentary Photography "Begins"
Lange: Survey Graphic wrote and asked me for some of those photographs
of the May Day communist demonstrations to accompany an article,
and I sent them two or three. They printed one, full-page, with
their own caption underneath, which was: "Workers of the World,
Unite!" The photograph of a fellow talking vehemently into
a microphone; it was a big and rather handsome page, with
this dark figure, his mouth stretched and open, and this
caption. It wasn't my caption and it, of course, gave the picture
a turn which a good documentary photographer is very punctilious
about. . .
I was just discovering then what good documentary
Langc: photography was. There have been a few figures who have made
collections, Lewis W. Mine, and Jacob Riis and a few others, but
they didn't do documentary photographs. They made photographs
that they kept together. They were series and sequences. The
documentary thing is a little different because it's filed and
cross-filed in its pure state, and it's buttressed by written
material and by all manner of things which keep it unified and
solid. I thought I had made a discovery, and in a way 1 had.
Photo- journalism didn't exist then, you see. Now I can see
connections, as very often happens in any field. Sometimes
you hear people say, "1 was the first..." forgetting that these
things, historically, arise almost simultaneously in different
sections of the country, different parts of the globe. It
does seem as if whatever the thing is that the world is ready
for next happens. You think you have chosen, yourself, but you
haven't; it's a part of your time. I've seen it more than once.
And in this connection, with the development of what they call
photo- journalism- -
Riess: Life magazine started it--
Lange: Yes, but what started Life magazine? Life magazine didn't
start something. Somebody started Life magazine. Why did
that person start that? What was the source of that idea? out
of what soil did that develop? Well, I know a little about
it, but the thing I'd like to say now is that out of some attempts
Lange: at doing documentary photography, photo- journalism began. 1
think there is a connection. Photo-journalism, however, developed
very fast. It now exists as a tool of journalism.
Riess: It was something that could be marketed right away.
Lange: Yes. And it has gone fast. Documentary photography has not.
It has been slow and good examples of it are very few. Mostly
it's something that people love to talk about and very few
do. I don't know if it has been taking hold really, and I
don't think if it's not taking hold it's because it's been
proven futile or not successful; it's just so difficult and the
rewards are sparse because it is not in demand. Photo- journalism,
sometimes superb, is quicker and easier and catchier. I myself
feel somewhat of a failure because had I been willing (able?)
to devote myself to do what is necessary to do in the way of
years of work and effort and developing that field, I might
have pushed it further, a whole lot further. Often I feel this
keenly, that I might have and didn't (couldn't?).
Riess: By producing more?
Lange: Oh, by doing all the things it takes if you want to do something
very well indeed. That's damned hard in any field of endeavor.
There are people who work at it and then there are people who
really do it, and they are rare. I realize more and more what
it takes to be a really good photographer. You just go in over
your head, not just up to your neck, Vbich I--you know, we all
Lange: have very good reasons why we don't do things. I don't know what
I could have done; I didn't do it.
You know, you think choices are made for you; well, they're
made for you because you make them. [Laughter] Only I know.
And the only reason for mentioning it now is that it applies to
everyone, and in the arts perhaps particularly. Only the
practitioner knows, because he has the insight, what is possible,
and how he hasn't even approached it.
Riess: What a burden! Maybe nobody ever lives up to themselves.
Lange: No, I don't think that's true. I think that I would put it
that there are very many people who don't have the conception,
and therefore they never get beyond it. They are relieved of
the burdens because they don't have the vision of the possibility.
The man who has the vision of the possiblity is the man who
could do it.
Lange: And you think that most artists have this vision of the possibility?
Lange: I think many unhappy people are people who have the conception.
They have enough stretch in them so that they see what is
possible. That immediately puts it to them: Yes or No. Freely
put. But the others, they never see it. They are innocent and
they live effortless lives meeting their little troubles as they
come in a very noble way. But this other burden isn't on them.
Now in my case the thing is that the business of uniting
the conception of the documentary photograph with the photograph
Lange: that also carries within it another thing, a quality that the
artist responds to, is the only way to make a documentary
photograph. You see how difficult this is? A documentary
photograph is not a factual photograph per se. It is a photo-
graph which carries the full meaning and significance of the
episode or the circumstance or the situation that can only be
revealed--because you can't really recapture it--by this other
quality. Now there is no real warfare at all between the artist
and the documentary photographer. He has to be both. But he isn't
showingas the artist does who works in abstraction, or who
works rather more divorced from conditions-- just "how he
feels," but it is more that the documentary photographer has to
say "what is it really?" You see that there is a difference.
That is a very, very hard job. I'll show you a beautiful thing...
[Returns with an AP Wirephoto of Mrs. Patrice Lumumba and
Lumumba's sister mourning the death of Lumumba, dated probably
7th or 8th of March 1961.] Isn't that marvelous? Now if one
were documenting the Congo crisis and one could do it in such
elemental terms, that would be a great documentary series, you
Riess: That's an amazing photograph because there is no perspective
Lange: Yes. It's all on one plane, which is emotionally correct for that,
in that because it has no local setting it speaks to you in terms
of everyone's experience. It isn't encumbered by the local
Well, I don't know if all this on documentary photo-
graphy is pertinent to what we're doing here, but if my recol-
lections and the development of photography in my working years
is pertinent, this is.
Into the Field
Riess: You began to go on field trips with Dr. Paul Taylor in 1935?
Lange: Yes. I went on two expeditions, two short field trips, where it
was in one case a three-week job, and in another a month's
job, to do specific things. I was on Dr. Taylor's crew: he
had a crew of people who were working in the field, some of
them students; I went as a photographer. He arranged that I
should be paid to do it. I've forgotten how much it was, but
doing that led to my going into a full-time job. Paul Taylor
had a grant, I think from the state, to make this survey.
I was Field Director of the Division of Rural Rehabilitation,
California State Emergency Relief Administration. The first trip
was to Nipomo, in February 1935, for the pea harvest. This
was one of the "shorter" trips. P.S.T.
Lange: The second time we went out into the Imperial Valley
there were six or eight of us. I remember how amused I was that
we started at six o'clock in the morning and he never thought
that anybody should have anything to eat. [Laughter] The first
couple of times we went out we went on shorter trips, long week-
ends, and there we first discovered that this man didn't know
anything about what people require in the way of food and drink
and lodgingvery unimportant to him. So we lived without it
until finally we called a halt on him.
I remember on one of the trips we went to San Luis
Obispo and somebody who had to do with the state health board
[State Division of Immigration & Housing. P.S.T.] was on that
trip with us. We were sitting in the lobby of the hotel there
and Paul was standing over by the hotel desk, writing and writing
and writing, and he stood there for a couple of hours, and this
man kept saying to me, "You see how methodical he is? See? He
leaves nothing to chance." Actually, what Paul's report revealed
wasn't very good for this fellow. He was methodical all right.
I also remember in that same hotelwe were on a per diem--
all these men ordering dinners that cost $1.75. I thought it
was sheer self-indulgence. [Laughter] For $1 you'd get a pretty
good dinner. That'll give you an idea of how long ago this was and
how many changes there have been. To work with migratory
laborers and then go into a hotel and order a dinner that cost
Lange: for one person $1.75 was inhuman.
Riess: What were the farm laborers getting then?
Lange: I don't remember, but it was very little, and with those people
you can't figure it really by the day because the work is irregular.
Sometimes they go into the fields at noon because in the morning
the fields are too wet with dew. And sometimes it's picked by
throe o'clock. In cotton sometimes they get full, regular days,
but the other crop work is full of twists and vagaries.
Riess: What were the rest on Dr. Taylor's team doing?
Lange: Well, I have a wretched memory. I just don't put these things
together. There was Tom Vasey, a field researcher, and a student
of Paul's. I remember him saying, the first day we were out
in a carwe'd stopped at a gas stationPaul asked the fellow
who put the gas in the car some question about the country around
as we drove off Tom said, "He was a good informant." [Laughter]
I thought, "What language! ^^ kind of peO ple are these? 'He
was a good informant.'" That really surprised me. I knew then
that I was with people who were in a different world than mine.
Riess: Yes, where information is gotten from an "informant."
Lange: Then- was another man, whose name slips me at the moment, who
had a similar role. And there was a young Mexican woman, who
lived in San Bernardino, who was there because we were working
with many Mexicans, especially in Imperial, and she went down by
herself to make interviews with the field workers. She went off
Lange: in the morning and came back at night, and she was a wonderful
Riess: Did you go with her to photograph?
Lange: I never went with her, because she worked in a very close and
intimate relationship. She didn't speak of "informants."
I think what she came out with at the end was life-histories.
She got a lot of them from the women, because the men were working.
Now, of course, the subject faces me again, with this
very great revival of interest in agricultural labor, migratory
labor. The new element in the picture now is labor organization.
Oh, we had it then and I dealt in it, but it was very pathetic,
weak, and spasmodic and dying. And it still is, really, except
the AFofL CIO has now entered into it and if they see it through
to organize the workers, that will be the first change in the
status of these people since I stopped working in it. Any
improvements that are in it are improvements that came through
Lange: Yes, camps, which have gone through all kinds of stages of
neglect and revival and so on. But that was initiated then, and
most of it didn't stick. But serious organization belongs to
*1. Ref. to VPerspective on Housing of Migratory
Agricultural Labor," by P.S. Taylor, in Land Economics.
2. First two project books by D.L. and P.S.T. are in the
Library of Congress. Third book in the Oakland Museum Dorothea
Lange: last year and, I hope, this.
I'm very much concerned with it, and if I could I
would get really involved in it. I think I spoke of this
before. At any rate, I've been thinking about it lots, and
what I'm going to do, if the AFofL will pay for it, is to,
myself, organize and recruit the people to go in and photo-
graph it, because it hasn't been done, as far as I know. There's
been no visual record of organizing from the bottom and seeing
it through. My, I can just imagine the thousands of dollars
the Rockefeller Foundation and the Ford Foundation will give
twenty years from now to Ph.D.s to do research, when here is
the material. Here we're at grips with it and we are not
accomplishing the source material for lack of a few dollars,
and maybe for lack of a few people who will get together and
see to it that it is done. I would do that. I could. There's
one photographer I'm underwriting, Just to make sure, personally.
What I did in that was underwritten by the United States govern-
ment, and I'll just pass it on, in a very small way.
Riess: I did see some good photographs of workers and conditions in
the Imperial Valley on a poster recently. Apparently somebody
has been interested.
Lange: I've seen quite a few that people have made. You know, it's a
subject that of course is not too difficult, and it has a very,
very great hold on people because it's simple drama.
Riess: It is not difficult to photograph?
Lange: Everything is difficult to photograph well.
But people get involved in it. The things that are
easy to photograph are the things that people get very much
involved in. Then they can photograph them. But what surprises
me is that when they present this story of agricultural labor,
people don't really see the big story which is behind it, which
is the story of our natural resources. That is the real story
of agricultural labor, and they will photograph the conditions
but they don't go behind and put them in their right place.
That's where the documentary job has got to be done, to show,
for instance, what we in California have done in passing the water
bill. The same people who vote for those water bonds will
then go down and deplore and collect clothing and attend meetings,
with the best will in the world, but not much head. That part
isn't so easy.
I've forgotten to mention that we also did the self-
help co-ops, the UXA [Unemployed Exchange Association] cooperatives.
It was the barter movement, when people were trying to exchange
goods and services without cash.
(That was the time that Clark Kerr was working on his
doctorate on that subject. [Productive Enterprises of the
Unemployed. Clark Kerr, Ph.D. Thesis, University of California
at Berkeley, 1949, four volumes, 1268 pages.] He took his
Lange: doctorate under Paul and was at our house a lot and I remember
that he finished that thesis a year or so later and it was
a pile so high [four thick volumes high per copy] at our back
door. It would have filled a big carton. It was a big job.
And he did it on self-help co-ops of which this barter movement
We went up into the country above Oroville where a group
of these barter people had a place up in the foothills where
they lived and were running a sawmill. The dream was that the
sawmill would support those people and would support a lot of them
down in Oakland who would in exchange send up things they needed,
and so on. This has been tried many times when people are really
up against it. This was a most heart-breaking effort.
I remember that whole business of being up there as
something very sad and dreary and doomed.
Riess: Did the people themselves feel that then?
Lange: No, that was the worst. You know, there always are a few
enthusiastic souls in such things who carry the others along
with them in spite of everything that goes wrong; Yet they
were so very much on the bottom that they lacked everything to
do with. There was nothing to hand. It was all in the hope, and
in the glimmer of a possibility of success. In the meanwhile
there wasn't too much to eat and what there was was old carrots
and turnips. Not enough oil to run the engine, not enough shingles
Lange: for the roof, not enough of anything excepting courage on the
part of a few. It was a sad thing, that was. But we photographed
that. I have some of those photographs. I didn't do it very
well. I could do it now, but I went up there thinking I could
photograph something that would help them and get more people
interested. I did it optimistically, you see, and I didn't
know enough at that time. I did it the way a photo- journalist
would if he had an ax to grind. I didn't realize what I do now.
Had I, I'd have a real document, a real record. But I have none
because I didn't really see it.
I remember Paul sitting there in their community house-r-
an abandoned sawmill, so it had that atmosphereinterviewing
and speaking to these people. I had never heard a social scientist
conduct an interview. I knew about people going and asking
questions and filling in questionnaires, but an interview I
had never heard. And I was very interested in the way in which
he got the broad answers to questions without people really
realizing how much they were telling him. Everybody else went
to bed while he was still sitting there in that cold, miserable
place talking with those people. They didn't know they were being
interviewed, although he wrote and wrote. He always writes when
Riess: You in your photography and he in his interviewing found people eager
Lange: Oh, don't you think that most people are eager to talk, really?
If people are talking about themselves and their own experience
and their own involvement, they are eager to talk. If they're
talking about the other fellow, they're ready to go to bed.
[Laughter] No, getting people to talk is no problem, as you must
know very well, but keeping them on the track, that's different.
Photography for the Government
Farm Security Administration
Lange: I am told that the Farm Security Administration photographic
division existed because of a report I had done when I worked
I first saw D.L. 's work in 1934 in Willard van Dyke's
exhibition at 683 Brockhurst, Oakland. Through Willard, by telephone,
I arranged that her photographs should illustrate my article in the
Survey Graphic on San Francisco and the general strike.
The expedition of the UXA sawmill was the first time that I
met D.L. in person. The party was arranged through van Dyke, and
included Imogen Cunningham, Mary Jeanette Edwards, Preston Holder,
and myself. My own interest was in encouraging the photographing
of a social phenomenon; the interest of the others was in finding
opportunity to photograph people in social situations without fear
that their motives would be misunderstood and their approaches resisted.
A photographic exhibition was developed from this expedition,
was exhibited in Haviland Hall (UCB) and is in the archives of The
Following his exhibition of D.L. 's photographs at 683 Brockhurst,
and their common experience in photographing the UXA, van Dyke wrote
an article remarkable for its insight at this early date in evaluating
D.L. as a photographer. (The Photographs of Dorothea Lange, Camera
Craft. V. 41, no. 10: 461-467, October 1934.) P.S.T.
Lange: for the state relief administration. When my report went to
Washington to be used it was seen by someone and, as a result,
the whole Farm Security Administration photographic team was
established. It was all based on this report t did.
Riess: What was the report, and who saw it?
Lange: Well, actually there were two reports: one was on rural slum
housing and one was on migratory labor. The one on migratory
labor was done to try to get money to establish camps which
would have rudimentary facilities and supervision.
Riess: These would be federal camps?
Lange: Camps with federal money. That is, at first the idea was not federal
"Thus while Dorothea Lange was the first person to
photograph the migratory workers, and while John Steinbeck was
the first novelist of importance to write about the migratory
workers, and while I was the first movie man to make a picture
about the drought, there was no correspondence or even conversation
among any of the three of us in those first years of work...
"It is fortunate for all concerned that by chance Roy Stryker
was brought from Columbia University in 1933 by Rex Tugwell to
write a history of Resettlement. Instead of writing a history,
he very intelligently set up a photographic division to do his
reporting for him, and first crack out of the blue, he received a
portfolio of still pictures from Lange, reporting all too starkly
the rattle-trap jalopies, the tent villages, and the dazed faces
of the Texans and Oklahomans in the vanguard of the now famous
migration.: DOROTHEA LANGE: Camera with a Purpose. Pictures by
Dorothea Lange, text by Pare Lorentz. U.S. Camera 1941, Volume 1
"AMERICA" Edited by T.J. Maloney, Pictures judged by Edward Steichen.
Pages 94, 95.
See also FSA HISTORY. Interview with Roy Stryker. Autumn
1952. Held in apartment of John Vachon, participated in by several
photographers who had served on Stryker 's staff. Typed record.
Home & Shall, Inc. 15 East 41st Street, New York 17 N.Y. 80 pages.
Lange: camps, but camps with federal money that later became federal
camps. That report got the first $20,000 to establish those
Riess: A picture report.
Lange: Yes, and that idea just went like wildfire. It seemed as
though this field had been just waiting. Rex Tugwell got Roy
Stryker from Columbia University (they had been colleagues at
Columbia) and told him to come to Washington to make a graphic
history of American economic growth.
Riess: Was it Tugwell who saw the report and got things moving?
Lange: Exactly the channel, from whom to whom, I don't know. Certainly
Tugwell was important because he was the administrator for the
Resettlement Administration, which became the Farm Security
Well, that Farm Security Administration under Roy Stryker
was a very unusual thing. Now it's really famous and becoming
more so all the time. It amuses me, really, because I have watched
a legend--you' re too young to have watched a legend grow--l've
watched that legend grow and it's now become a full-blown legend.
Riess: Makes you feel like a legendary figure?
Lange: Not I so much, but Stryker. They're going to have a monument to
him one of these days, in bronze I I read all these histories of
the photographic section, and my memories of the actual thing
that it was then, and the way the participants in it think it was!..
Lange: it's very funny. Anyway, they used my report on migratory labor,
as an example of the kind of thing they were talking about, to get
the section budgeted. That was a way of getting it done that
occurred to them, I think, in a subway in New York. And the
way things went in that New Deal time, two weeks later it was
established and was called the historical section of the
Resettlement Administration. [In later revision Dorothea Lange
said, "This section is irresponsible and needs to be restated."]
Riess: I read that one of the reasons for setting up this section was
their conviction that the press couldn't be depended on for
proper and sufficient coverage of the administration's work.
Lange: Well, that was one of the reasons that they gave to Congress,
to get their money. Their real reasons were a little different.
Stryker was a very good fellow for fending off Congress and
protecting the section and staff from the wrath of people who said
that in these times this was no way to spend money. But they
had loads and loads of reasons.
Actually, during those years those photographs were very
little used. The thing that really fascinates me is to see
how in the passage of time the validity of that file becomes
more and more apparent. Its real value we had hunches of at the
"Little used? Gee whiz!" P.S.T.
Lange: time; to justify it while we were doing it, Stryker used to
try to make those photographs practical, get them into news-
papers and magazines and so on, but he wasn't good at it. And
as the thing grew, it became a very expensive business. It
wasn't in the beginning, but as things go in Washington, the
budget became big. While it was a small section, still they had
a pretty good lab going and they had a lab man and they got this
and they got that, and a lot of file clerks. Paul Vanderbilt
was the fellow who put the files in order. Thank God for him!
But while it grew, the use of it was something that we all had
(at least I had) some qualms about. Stryker, however, stuck
by that idea in its broadest sense and he found ways of defending
One hard time we had was the time when they discovered
that one of the photographers had moved a skull and that opened
the whole thing up in Congress. What was this that was going
on? Why were these people running around the country taking
pictures? And what was this business of contriving situations
in order to suit propaganda purposes? And that was quite a
thing. People laugh at it now. We laugh at it when we get
together, but it wasn't funny then.
Roy was good at that job. (Later on, he moved to Standard
Oil and he got a tremendous job, the same sort of task.) He'd
sit at the desk (FSA) and he'd point down the corridor and
Lange: "they" were all his enemies. He was guardian at the gate. He was
the defender of the files, inviolable; and they were locked up at
night. It was a holy crusade. The telephone would ring in
his office--he had three or four telephones he'd pick it up and
say, "Stryker speaking!" And he was just ready for whoever it
was [Laughter], any congressman or someone wanting to come in
and see what they had on his state of Arkansas or someplace.
What was always the hardest was to fend off the projects.
They tried to get us to photograph these projects of the
Resettlement Administration that were being established all
over the country. That certainly seemed like a very reasonable
thing, since we were on the road anyway. But to photograph the
projects you could do nothing else and the photographs were most
often useless because the projects were going up. They weren't
in their full swing and they weren't functioning. You'd be
photographing the half-built buildings all the time, with the
project manager and all his staff standing there looking at the
camera, you know. And the project manager would get hold of
you as you came up and he would have it all lined up, all the
things that to him were vital; but they weren't vital in the sense
of what were the real underpinnings.
We used to get letters from Stryker saying, "For God's
sake, when you're in Ohio stop at least at such and such a
project. The fellow is all right. Handle him as well as you
Lange: can, and spend a day at it. We've got to keep him quiet." So
we would do that. It seemed at the time high-handed, but it was
right that we shouldn't because the record standing there in
the Library of Congress would have been nothing but files and
files of projects. Nothing is worse.
Riess: Were you out on your own, or did the photographers travel as
Lange: It varied. Not a team out of Washington, but you'd pick them
up on the road. Sometimes if you needed help, if you got
lostI don't mean geographically lostyou went to the regional
office, and someone who understood the conditions in the area
would go with you for three or four days and always would
like to go. Or you'd pick up a state car and driver. Sometimes
I'd have a typist-steno with me if I wanted to get a lot of
notes, for a few days. That's the kind of thing. It was on
Riess: Part of your job was getting the notes?
Lange: Always. You were responsible for that, no matter how you got
Riess: And you studied the conditions yourself beforehand through reports?
You might, for instance, be located here in California, receive an
assignment in some other area, then do a lot of reading before
Lange: Well, that isn't really the way I did it actually. Mostly if
Lange: I had reading to do I would do it in the area. I couldn't
retain it otherwise. But the contradiction was that the reading
that was most fruitful and the best was the reading that I
did after I had been there. That worked much better that doing
the reading before.
It's a somewhat questionable thing to read ahead of time
in a situation like that, because then you're not going under
your own power. It is often very interesting to find out later
how right your instincts were if you followed all the influences
that were brought to bear on you while you were working in a
region. I can't just now give you an example, but it did happen
more than once that we unearthed and discovered what had been
either neglected, or not known, in various parts of the country,
things that no one else seemed to have observed in particular,
yet things that were too important not to make a point of.
Riess: For instance, people being taken unfair advantage of?
Lange: Things that weren't working.
Riess: Administration things that weren't working?
Lange: During those years farm mechanization was just starting, and
it was not a matter of general public knowledge that it was
starting. The extension of big farming was happening in those
years. It doesn't seem possible, but very few people knew it.
Riess: Not even the ones who were being hurt?
Lange: They were voiceless, you sec, and we were the people who met
The influx into California after the dust storms of
April 1934, I made the first report on. The first wave of those
people arrived in southern California on a weekend. It was as
sharp and sudden as that when I was there.
Riess: Not just a trickling of people.
Lange: Enough so that it was noticeable. And we said, "What is this?
What is this?" And from that time on it came like a deluge.
But that Sunday in April of 1935 was a Sunday that I well
remember because no one noticed what was happening, no one
recognized it. A month later they were trying to close the
border. There were so many that they were talking about it,
but they never did really close the border, though they stopped
everybody. That was the big agitation then. Should they,
or should they not let them in? Well, that's the atmosphere of
the work of those days, and you can see why I feel restive when
I see what is going on in the field now, here in California,
which means that those people will be or will not be organized.
And it isn't that I'm not doing it that makes me restive so
much as that there is no provision made anywhere for anyone to
record this in photographs. There hasn't been a big photographic
project since this one that we're talking about.
Riess: It's strange. Things usually progress. This just stopped.
Lange: No young photographers have had the training and the education and
Lange: the experience that we had. That whole team are all people who have
been able to use it very well. And they are still the top in
the field. That's deplorable. The younger people should have
had the same chance that we did. Somewhere some project should
take on ten American photographers and put them to work on
something. And nobody is doing it. The Ford Foundation is
just shoveling out money for all kinds of things that are on
the edges. But this is right in the middle! And nothing is
being done to record this history of farm labor organization.
Riess: After your marriage to Dr. Taylor [December 1935], did you and he
travel together on field and photographing trips?
Lange: The first five years, until the war interrupted, he went on
some of the big field trips with me. He had assignments where
the regions were parallel so we were together a lot of the time.
It wasn't that he was with me all of the time. He'd be with
me maybe a month and then he had to go back to Washington and
he would rejoin me in the summers. And a good deal of the
discipline that I needed in order to get hold of such an
assignment- -some of them had a very broad base--he gave me on
those trips. So I never quite did what some of the photographers
on that job, some of the best ones--I say best because what
came out of it at the end was decidedly importantdid, the
This refers to Project One. See Appendix.
Lange: haphazard shooting. I learned a good deal from Paul about being
a social observer.
Riess: I wanted to ask you about haphazard shooting, and particularly
in the situation of the FSA team. Why do photographers take
so many pictures of the samesubject instead of pinpointing what
it is they want to show and tell in a few shots?
Lange: It's highly desirable to make more than one shot on the same
subject. There isn't always time. In fact, there is rarely
time to work deliberately. When you get going, you have to
shoot fast. Like asking a person to write their letters in
triplicateyou can't do it, but I certainly wouldn't seriously
criticize a photographer who works completely without plan,
and photographs that to which he instinctively responds. In
fact, that's a pretty good guide--that to which you respond.
I have all my Asian work that I'm going into now, cutting right
into the middle of it, and I find that it proves that a very
good way to workI'm careful not to say "the only way to
work" because there is none--a very good way to work is open
yourself as wide as you can, which in itself is a difficult
thing to do, just to be yourself like a piece of unexposed,
sensitized material. To know ahead of time what you're looking
for means you're then only photographing your own preconceptions,
which is very limiting, and often false.
It'u a vi-ry difficult thing to be exposed to the new
Lange: and strange worlds that you know nothing about, and find your
way. That's a big job. It's hard, without relying on past
performances and finding your own little rut, which comforts
you. It's a hard thing to be lost.
Riess: And so you watch and wait...
Lange: You force yourself to watch and wait. You accept all the
discomfort and the disharmony. Being out of your depth is
a very uncomfortable thing. In travel, for instance, you
force yourself onto strange streets, among strangers. It
may be very hot. It may be painfully cold. It may be sandy
and windy and you say, "What am I doing here? What drives
me to do this hard thing?" You ask yourself that question.
You could be so comfortable, doing other things, somewhere
else. You know?
Riess: You didn't feel out of your element for long when you were
doing the Farm Security Administration photography, did you?
Lange: Sometimes I did. Oh, the end of the day was a great relief,
always. "That's behind me." But at the moment when you're
thoroughly involved, when you're doing it, it's the greatest
Riess: At the moment of photographing, not the moment of developing?
Lange: Never then. But at the moment when you say, "I think maybe... I
think that was all right. . .maybe that will be it." And you
know when you're working fairly well. You have a stretch.
But as I say, every day as it passes you say, after it's done
Lange: "It's over. I did the best I could. I didn't do very well but
I did the best I could. . .There's nothing on the film. I'm sure
there's nothing on it, nothing worth recording..." What I'm
t rying to say is, photography for the people who play around
with it is very exhiliarating and a lot of fun. If you take
it seriously, it's very difficult. There's no end to the
Office of War Information
Riess: What work did you do for the Office of War Information?
Lange: It was during the war, and I photographed minority groups
within the United States for use overseas in the magazine the
OWI published, called, I think, America. I'm not sure of the
name, but at any rate it had one of those large formats.
Riess: Circulated to make them understand us.
Lange: Yes, and when I worked on the Italian-Americans it went to
Italy and when I worked on the Spanish-Americans it went to
Spain. French-Americans, and so on. This project was transferred
to the State Department from the War Information Department
during the last half-year of the war.
Also in 1945 I photographed the drawing up of the Charter
Lange: of the United Nations under the Office of War Information.
And it was at not quite the end of that that I was stopped
for years. I had no business to do it, I knew it, but I did
it anyway. That finished me physically. During wartime my
work was very difficult because I had to get clearances for
everything I did from the army and they were very difficult to
Riess: The war offices wouldn't smooth it all out ahead of time.
Lange: The couldn't. It all had to be done locally, from the Presidio.
And, for instance, when I was working on Italian-Americans I
couldn't photograph the locale from the top of Telegraph Hill.
I couldn't describe it geographically without having a soldier
with me and bringing the negatives and the proofs back to the
Presidio for them to check on. I couldn't photograph from the
roof of a building or out a window because of all the extra
war restrictions that there were. It was difficult and laborious.
If you're working for a private agency like working for a
magazine on an assignment and they tell you that you can't do this and
you can't do that, you do it, generally. I don't mean you
photograph people whom you shouldn't, but you jump hurdles and
take chances. Working for the government you couldn't, and
so it took an awfully long time.
Riess: With the censorship at this low level.
Lange: They had their orders, you see, but oh myl Especially that
Lange: Telegraph Hill thing, I remember how hard they made that.
And then there were things like this: in photographing Italian-
Americans here was the shopping and food and chickens and
bolognas and macaroni and fruit and all this life, but we had
to minimize that because they didn't want the photograph to
look as though during the war we had a surfeit and plenty to
go to people who were suffering the ravages of war. That seemed
like, oh, the big American bragging. See how difficult this
Riess: It was propaganda work.
Lange: It was propaganda, but the line, in the hands of conscientious
people, is a fine line. Everything is propaganda for what you
believe in, actually, isn't it? Yes, it is. I don't see that
it could be otherwise. The harder and the more deeply you
believe in anything, the more in a sense you're a propagandist.
Conviction, propaganda, faith. I don't know, I never have
been able to come to the conclusion that that's a bad word. I
feel the same way about that word as I feel about the word
"politician." I rebel when I hear a politician described as
a base and ignoble person. I know what they mean, all right,
but I think it's a misuse of that word. We need that word.
Publicist is not the word, public servant is not the word. We
need the word in the language. And we need the word propaganda.
It isn't advertising, certainly. But at any rate, that's what
Lange: the Office of War Information work was.
Riess: Did you have to send your films in to the government, or did
you develop them and edit them first?
Lange: It depended upon how fast they had to be delivered. They
permitted me to develop the negatives and make pilot prints
whenever possible. It wasn't always possible. But the
negatives had to go to them finally. I have none of that work.
They went in documented envelopes, with typed explanatory
captions and individual captions. There was just lots of paper
work that went with it.
Riess: Had you assistance in gathering this information?
Lange: No, I never had that in OWI. Sometimes they permitted me to
hire someone who would carry the cameras because there were
distances, often. And that could go on my expense account.
Riess: How about getting signed releases and names and so on. Was
this necessary in doing government work?
Lange: I never have paid any attention to it. I always carried them
with me, for years and years, and never used them.
Riess: In the evert the person photographed wanted some reassurance,
you had them.
Lange: In that event and also in the event that I was questioned. It
was further fortification, besides letters. But it's like
working under suspicion and you have to have the confidence of
the people you're working amongst. If it depends upon authenti-
Lange: cation and if it depends upon clearances and so on, it doesn't
work. I don't know why that is, but it is so.
Now, working for a magazine, there are times when they
have to have the clearance in their files, to protect them.
What I did a few timesnot manywas retrace my own steps
afterwards. I got into some pretty funny situations in Oakland
when I was working on the "Public Defender" for Life magazine
. I had to go into one dive that I'll never forget, in
the colored quarter of Oakland, looking for a man who is the
person I photographed called "the witness" and I had to find
him. I found him all right. I had two policemen with me.
And he was just charming about it. We rode around Oakland in
a police-wagon while I explained to him just what this was
about. That would have made an interesting tape, me explaining
to this big, black homosexual why I wanted his picture, and his
responses. It finally came round that if it was for the
general welfare, he was all for the general welfare. [Laughter]
Oh my, that was wonderful.
Riess: What were you going to do on the Guggenheim Fellowship you
were awarded in 1941?
Lange: I was going to do three co-operative religious communities, but
that was interrupted by the war. I had to go to work for OWI and
I never got finished and I was never able to take it up again.
By the time I got through working for the OWI I came out in a
Lange: different place. The war was over and I didn't want to
go back into photographing those things. So many changes
were on us, and such rapid changes in American life that that
was like going back into photographing something that was a
Riess: Had these cooperative religious communities held together
throughout the war?
Riess: What were they?
Lange: There was the Shaker community, which was disintegrating.
There was the Amana society and the Hutterite society. The
Hutterites are in South Dakota and the Amanas are in Iowa. The
Amana society is a very prosperous community, seven villages.
And the Hutterites are very prosperous, but very much more
rigid. Very stark and bleak and very demanding of their people.
They really kept them in bondage. And then I did the Amish
too, in Weatherford, Oklahoma and Arthur, Illinois.
Riess: The Shakers are dying out by not reproducing.
Lange: Yes, that is now pretty well gone. They do such marvelous
furniture, really beautiful in some ways. The Amana people make
good furniture. But they permitted a couple of people to come
in and redesign it for them for the market. So they use very
fine craftsmanship and very fine wood but it gets now to have
a kind of a touch to it that obliterates what it was originally.
They are enterprising. They've gone into mechanical manufacturing.
Lange: They do the Amana freezer, and it's a good freezer. Whatever
they do is substantial.
War Relocation Authority
Riess: What was your approach when you photographed for the War
Relocation Authority, the relocation of one family from start
Lange: Not any one family. What I photographed was the procedure, the
process of processing. I photographed the normal life insofar
as I could, in three parts of California. That was possible
because this performance went over quite a period of time. The
San Francisco people were moved early. As soon as War Relocation
was established I started. I don't at all remember now how
it came about that I did this. Who got me into it? It was
through someone that I'd worked for in government before,
but I don't remember that.
Riess: Had Stryker something to do with it?
Lange: Well, it could be that he had a connection. It could be that
he was still administering in Farm Security and that some of
his photographers did a little on it. They'd be apt to be
photographing the relocation if they were in existence in 1942.
Riess: FSA, CWI, and WRA were all in existence at least until 1945, and
OWI and WRA began in 1942, and so they must have overlapped.
Lange: Yes, I worked for the WRA, under Dr. Milton Eisenhower, who
was here for part of that time [March-June 1942]. I don't
remember the name of the next administratorhe didn't last
longand then there was Dillon S. Myer who was able to see it
through [to June 1946], and encompass it. It was very difficult.
Riess: The headquarters was here in San Francisco?
Lange: Yes. Anyway, I photographed all over this part of California.
I didn't photograph in southern California. They had people
who had been news people doing it there. Clem Albers. I
photographed, for instance, the Japanese quarter of San Francisco,
the businesses as they were operating, and the people as they
were going to their YWCAs and YMCAs and churches and in their
Nisei headquarters, all the baffled, bewildered people, whose
own people took it on themselves to describe it to them, to
explain it to them.
When the business of their having shots and innoculations
came, again their own people took it over. They refused
army doctors. Their own doctors did it. Everything that was
possible that they could do themselves, they did asked the
minimum, took huge sacrifices, made practically no demands.
This was very unusual, almost unbelievable, and this I photo-
graphed, the long lines on the streets waiting, for instance, for
Lange: the innoculations, down Post Street and around the corner,
little, dark people.
And then I photographed when they all were gathered
together at the assembly centers the actual, practical,
arrangements that had to be made. Oceans of desks and oceans
of people with papers were interviewing heads of families,
all the questions on their relatives and so on. It was all
under the army, though it wasn't army peofle who were doing
it, but social workers of all kinds who were called in.
Arrangements had to be made for each family, either for the
disposal of their goods or for storage.
Amongst these you would see those who you wouldn't
know were Japanese--one-sixty-fourth blood!
Riess: Were these people with one-sixty-fourth Japanese blood voluntarily
going, or had they been herded in?
Lange: No, they came under the proclamation. All these proclamations,
all over town, on the telephone poles. I have some of them--
big proclamations telling the people where to go, announcing the
fact. And then when the day of removal came they all had to
be at a certain place. Part of the people in San Francisco
had to be at Van Ness Avenue in one of the great big automobile
salesrooms, you know. Many of those were empty at the time
and they took them over. These people came, with all their
luggage and their best clothes and their children dressed as
Lange: though they were going to an important event. New clothes.
That was characteristic. But always off in a little group
by themselves were the teenage boys. They were the ones that
really hurt me the most, the teenage boys who didn't know
what they were. The older people have more of a way of being
very dignified in such a situation and not asking questions.
But these Americanized boys, they were loud and they were
rowdy and they were frightened.
Then I photographed them on the buses, on the trains
and I photographed their arrival in the assembly centers,
and the first days there as these places settled down to
routine life and the beginnings of organization, which they
did themselves, in the assembly centers. And then they were
moved again, into the interior, and I photographed only one of
the interior centers, Manzanar, in Owens Valley. I went there
three times, I think.
Riess: When they were settled and organized in the interior centers,
were they able to make money somehow? Could they have small
factories, or businesses within the camp confines?
Lange: If they did anything like thatand I never saw it--they did
it way at the end. And they were not allowed to compete in
any way, not even in the making of souvenirs, with the American
Riess: I remember seeing pictures of a hospital arrangement and even
;. : Q
-^ 3 >
O - ? M
- S -oS s g|2 o-
Riess: training nurses. It looked like amazing organization.
Lange: It was, but it was an organization for people who had no activity
but the activity that they made for themselves. Static. They
made a lot of it, though none of it extended outside the
watchtowers. In a few camps they went out to work in
agriculture, but there was a lot of hostility, and many
uncomfortable questions were raised. They had been told that
it would be possible, that they would be able to earn money,
but it didn't go very well.
What really brought all round was the "Go for Broke
Overseas" Niseis that made the war record, Hawaiians. That
really was something. I photographed them when they came back,
too. Some of them came to our housethey were great fellows--
brought there by people, Japanese-Americans, whom I had met
during this transaction. I have friends among them, quite
close friends, who stem from those days.
Riess: Where are the Japanese evacuation pictures?
Lange: They were impounded during the war. Army permission was necessary
for their release. They had wanted a record, but not a public
record, and they were not mine. I was under bond. I had to sign
when I was finished, under oath, before a notary.
WRA negatives are in the National Archives, Washington,
D.C. I am told the "impounded" negatives also are there and are
so classified. P.S.T.
Riess: They were so incriminating?
Lange: Some of them were. Not all of them.
Riess: Ansel Adams has done a book, Born Free and Equal, of pictures
of Manzanar, which says it was authorized by the War Relocation
Lange: They didn't authorize it, they okayed it.
Riess: His book says that the whole thing was justifiable.
Lange: It was shameful. That's Ansel. He doesn't have much sense about
these things. He was one of those at the beginning of the war
who aid- -they'd had Japanese in their home always as house
help and that was characteristic of his household--he said
he saw the point. "You never get to know them," and all this.
He gave the regular line, you know, but he wasn't vicious about
it. He's ignorant on these matters. He isn't acutely aware
of social chage.
Riess: As a result I think it made his book uninteresting.
Lange: It was far for him to go, far. He felt pretty proud of himself
for being such a liberal [laughter] on that book. It wasn't
a success. The man who underwrote it, Tom Maloney, and put it
out, put it out not as Ansel wanted it, not good enough
reproductions and not good enough style. Maloney had promised
to really produce it and take care of its marketing, which he
Born Free and Equal by Ansel Adams - photographs of the
loyal Japanese-Americans at Manzanar Relocation Center, Inyo County,
California. New York, U. S. Camera: 1944. Authorized by the
War Relocation Authority.
Lange: didn't do, so this has been a sore point with Ansel. But it
was the only thing of its kind that he's ever tried to do and
he's pretty proud of himself on that one. He doesn't know
how far short it is, not yet.
Riess: He had a theory of the part the environment played--the presence
of great mountains with all their permanence and serenityin
helping to maki- the re-location as easy as possible.
Lange: Well, they had the meanest dust storms there and not a blade
of grass. And the springs are so cruel; when those people
arrived there they couldn't keep the tarpaper on the shacks.
Oh, my. There were some pretty terrible chapters of that
I was employed a year and a half to do that, and it
was very, very difficult. I had a lot of trouble, too, with
the army. I had a man following me all the time.
Riess: Even though you were a government employee.
Lange: Well, the War Relocation Authority themselves were out of
sympathy with the army in some respects at that time.
The whole thing, the feelings and tempers and people's
attitudes, were very complex and very heated at that time.
People certainly lost their heads, including our at that
time attorney-general, Earl Warren, and it was a black thing
on his record when he lost his head and made some very rash
statements, which have never really caught up with him but
Lange: of which I'm sure he's aware.
Now that that's so long ago and past now it is
heartening and I don't know just what it proves, but it proves
something to me, such as "truth will out." [Laughter]
American people generally, I think, are willing to concede
we made a hell of a mistake. And I see it in print, over
and over again, from unexpected sources. In the Congressional
Record it comes up every once in a while, as an example of
what happens to us if we lose our heads. It's that example
they point to. I think it's rather encouraging, as a sign
of our mental health, that we admit a mistake. What was, of
course, horrifying, was to do this thing completely on
the basis of what blood may be coursing through a person's
veins, nothing else. Nothing to do with your affiliations
or friendships or associations. Just blood.
There was undoubtedly much that was wrong and unjust
about the imprisonment at Tule Lake, but those camps represented
different groups. The day after Pearl Harbor they swiftly
moved into all Japanese communities and scooped up those who
could possibly be under suspicion, heads of organizations, and
that was justifiable under the circumstances. But where there's
Testimony by Earl Warren, Attorney General of California,
at hearing before House Select Committee investigation national
defense migration, 77 Congress, 2 session, pursuant to H.Res. 113
Part 29, pages 10973-11023 .
Lange: no suspicion, that's different.
I knew a young Japanese-American in San Francisco,
a very prominent and popular young man, still is. He was a
graduate of DC, one of these enthusiastic and loyal alumni.
My, he'll never get over the experience that he had, saves
all his notebooks, keeps in touch with his professors. It
just meant a lot to him. During this period I was on the
street with him. He was taking roe somewhere, and we met an
old high-school teacher of his. He greeted her and they
stopped and spoke, and I remember seeing a look go over
her face and she said, "Oh, but not you, Dave, they don't
mean you, Dave!" She didn't realize that he was going too.
To that degree people lost their heads entirely. I think of
that "Not you,. Dave" many times. I had a postcard from him
today from Geneva where he and his wife are at a conference
for youth in democracy. He's a delegate. His life--he lost
a child in the camp at Topaz, from exposure--his life is
dedicated to the memory of that child. But absolutely no
resentment, none. Dave will not permit it. Where is that
resentment? Is it non-existent? I don't know. I don't
understand it, which is another way of saying that I don't
understand those people.
I didn't get to Tule Lake, where the obstreperous ones
were. I wanted to go there. They were all kinds and they
Lange: had them in a real regime but I was never sent there or
permitted to go. They had riots, you see.
It seems long ago and now... I was in the Buddhist
church the other day and I found myself for the first time
since those years, excepting when I was in Tokyo, in my own
country surrounded by these little black heads in rows and
rows. (The woman who had died, whose funeral I was attending,
I had met in Japan. She was killed here.) But it brought
it all back to me. And I had to do the things that were in
the service too, I had to go through the rituals. It brought
how long ago that seems and how they have by some use of
some kind of a principle smoothed this and practically
obliterated it, practically.
I photographed aging women in Manzanar who were
casting their first vote. They had a campaign for camp
managers and camp officers, and here were these women
casting their first vote with the greatest seriousness.
They had classes for voting, classes for those who couldn't
speak English. They had many, many classes. There was much
talent in those camps, too, people who were competent to
teach and to do.
Taking and Printing a Picture
Riess: Do you think there is a point to questioning you about cameras
and filters and lights and papers and technical subjects?
Lange: There must be some reason for the question because you get
it all the time. I myself, when I meet a photographer, have
some curiosity about what equipment he would use by preference.
That isn't to say that he uses that camera always, because
there are other reasons for using small cameras or using
only big cameras. I find that my mind runs to about three
different types of instrument and if I can go equipped to
work if it's practical--! would take three basic cameras.
I'm not a one-camera person. And those three would be a
view camera, a 4x5; if I could manage it, I would make it
an 8x10. [End of Interview Session]
Riess: You said last week that ideally you would take three cameras
with you if you went on an assignment.
Lange: I'm apt to answer you one thing today and answer you differently
tomorrow, because I get very critical of a camera. This
morning I destroyed ten days' work, ten days of really
working- -not what some people would call work, and I'm always
Lange: amazed at what some people can do physically--! 've been at it
for ten days and I've had a printer in for three of those
days when we worked all day and I used much material, and this
morning I destroyed it because I failed. It's washed up
and what I wanted to do I know I'm not going to be able
to do. That's a disappointment to me. It's the fourth
episode of the Asian thing, which I felt I really needed,
and as I said I've worked at it day and night and I haven't
been able to get it out of my mind to put this together.
If I had been able to put it together out of materials I had,
I would have done something quite unlike anything I've done
before, which I very much would like to have done.
Since, however, I don't have to meet an assignment--
I would deliver it on assignment, and no one would know
that I had failed--! destroyed it. I am at the moment very
critical of one of the cameras that is in a way responsible.
It could be me, but it could be that that camera will not do
the thing that I was looking for in those negatives. There's
a sharpness of edge that isn't in them. They're too mushy.
Riess: Which section was this?
Lange: Oh, I don't even want to talk about it. I have to forget that
one. It was hard to do that this morning. But when you asked
me about cameraswe vary, we shift. I would take with me
a 4x5 long bellows extension Graflex on any trip, provided
Lange: I had the strength and heft to manage it because it's about
as awkward a camera as can be, heavy and bulky and awkward.
It curtails your freedom. The other extreme is the 35
millimeter which, if you are going to use it, I believe that
you should never use anything else. I think you have to
say to yourself, "I am a 35 millimeter person and there I
stay," because it doesn't seem to work to use it otherwise.
It is then never your base camera and it becomes your fill-
in. You begin to fill-in and the structural line of the job
is weakened. Now that probably doesn't make much sense to
you, but what the 35 millimeter can deliver is almost always
within a certain stylistic frame. You accept that and there's
plenty you can do within it.
Riess: This means adding wide-angle and telephoto lenses and so on.
Lange: Yes. All the things that go with it, the full range of
accessories. But you say to yourself, "For five years I will
use it and I won't use anything else." But to have it in
the car with you "just in case" or to have it around your
neck while you're using another camera, and go from one to
another, becomes a matter of adapting your style to too many
different kinds of things. It jumbles you. It rocks you--
which means that you're always looking for the perfect
Today I've been going through that. What am I going
Lange: to do when I want to go to Egypt? What am I going to take?
I could take just that Graflex, which would be plenty, and
nothing else. I would be cutting myself off from a lot of
things. But the prospect of taking the Graflex and the 35
does not sit right with me. I've tried that and I know it's
no good, just as I know it's no good to work in color and black
and white together. But how many do it! I don't see how
they do that; that's beyond me; I've done it, but I've done
it on a job. You don't work well that way. You're just
Riess: I understand you don't often develop your own prints.
Lange: No, but as I've said, I have print sense. [See p. 56] I'll
give you an example. This is a cover of an issue of Aperture
that's just come out; this is the advance copy of something
I just finished; the exhibit is in San Francisco now. Now
here was a beautiful print [looking at cover of "Death of a
Valley, Aperture 8:3, I960]. I'm not kicking at the engraver.
But it hurts me when I see this cover picture, knowing what
was in that print, because my print from which he made this
engraving was three steps down in value from this, much darker.
All these grasses [the grassy path upon which the couple walk]
are printed through in mine, so that they are not white areas
here, but they lead on through. Well, you see, that fellow
got into trouble when he made that engraving. And if you look
Lange: closely [at mountain horizon line] what he had to do is the
unspeakable thing of drawing a line here because he had not
printed it to get this. All this in my print has values;
therefore he hadn't made the separation. And look at this
[the field beyond] --it was all printed through with little
things that shimmer, all through here this grass Just
shimmers... Oh, it carries all right, most people wouldn't
Riess: I've noticed in the very familiar FSA picture you took of the
migrant mother with her children that sometimes a white spot
glares from her forehead and arm, other times not, but it
differs to some degree in each reproduction of it.
Lange: That's the Library of Congress. They own the negative and
they don't let the negative out and when people ask for it
they make the prints. Oh, what dreadful prints they make.
I've made them guide prints of it, askingbecause I don't
have any control of it that they follow the guide print.
Well, they'll try, and then they lose the guide print. That's
just an example. The rest of these [thumbing through the
book] --this should have been darker, this was originally
almost black, that's as good as the original.
Riess: Do you ever like the engraver's production better?
Lange: Yes... some newspaper prints. I'm surprised at how much a
different kind of a print will change a thing, sometimes
Lange: beyond what your original intention was. It's interesting
Riess: How permanent is a negative?
Lange: Well, there is a difference of opinion. Color films are not
permanent. Time fades them. Many people don't realize that,
and think they have a permanent record. There was a period
where the fihwas coated on a different base. They found
that that was impermanent because it dried out and the
acetate base cracked, besides being highly inflammable.
So that's been abandoned.
If everything is perfectly made before you get it,
and then perfectly processed when you get it, and then
stored right when you're through with it, in the right kind
of containers, which is important too, and then put into the
right kind of vault, which is air-conditioned and so on, which
of course no one's [negatives are] worth. ..Ansel Adams, I
think, keeps his work in a safe-deposit vault in a bank.
Now he's going to move to Carmel. It's the most fascinating
thing. Here Ansel is going to move to Carmel and some
corporation is building for him an establishment which will
be his permanent home, the home of his work, galleries, work-
rooms, vaults for storage, institutionalizing his work and
his output. And this is all to cost a hundred thousand
Lange: And then--I was thinking of it yesterdaythere's
another man, my friend John Collier, who has as much to give
photographically as Ansel, in an utterly different way,
only he looks entirely in the other direction. He is a
poverty-stricken man. I don't mean spiritually poor, by
any means. But such a thing could never happen to John.
He has been this way all his life. If a tire gives out on
his car, it's a calamity. And maybe it takes a month until
things get settled again. But Ansel is exactly the opposite,
has always been able to attract, to magnetize, money and
people with money. And he is so oriented. Now it's a curious
Riess: Yes, and my image of Ansel is of a bearded man in an old
station wagon, going into the mountains.
Lange: That's not the right picture. But isn't it an interesting
thing to watch people's careers and see how they are, what
they are, and how they always attract, somehow or other, the
same combinations of circumstances, only sometimes more
intensively in some periods than in others. But so much
clusters around a career which emanates from the depths of
the person, of which they may be entirely unaware. Now I'm
sure, I swear, that Ansel doesn't know that he goes where
the money is. Just like a homing pigeon. How does he
Riess: Was that photograph cropped? ["Texas," can be seen on p. 83
of American Society of Magazine Photographers Annual 1957.]
Lange: No, that's full. Some people don't permit themselves to
crop, you know. They consider it an admission of failure.
Riess: Yes, I would think that would be one of the disciplines that
you would impose on yourself. Yet, why?
Lange: Oh, there's no accepted code of excellence. That's something
that people like to talk about. There is a purist group that
insists that one conceive of the thing in its entirety at
the moment and nothing less than that is permissable. And
then there is a group like Eisenstaedt, for whom the great
discovery of photography came on the day when he found out
that you could take an inf initesimally little piece of a negative
and magnify an eyelash or an eye or the hairs on the back
of the hand, which to him was an immense discovery and, I
think, a valid one. Some people never discover the possibilities
of exposing to more than normal view something that you would
otherwise not see.
In my Asian group I'm repeating some of the same
photographs or parts of the same one, in this whole opus that
I'm doing, but I'm using them in different ways. Admittedly
it's the same negative, showing what you can do with the same
material. Different applications.
Riess: It's like the motion picture idea.
Lange: Why not do that, when the medium permits it? I think it
should be explored to the limit, though I don't know what
the limit of that method is.
So, you can crop, often knowing when you do a thing
that you're going to have to crop because there 'd be
confusions in it, awkward portions, or a lamppost would be
sticking out though you can't at the moment of photographing
change point of view. You know you're going to have to crop.
Most cropping is for the purpose of simplification, isolation
from environmental factors that contribute nothing to it.
Sometimes it very much changes the picture. In fact, that
lower head, that Arkansas fellow there [picture on wall],
in one series that I made, I left the whole street in behind
him because it was called for in the context of that group
Ricss: I'm always stopped in a book of FSA photographs by pictures of
men or women against a background of the sky, thinking that
they are by you. And usually they are.
Lange: Sometimes I come across photographs that I don't know if I
made. I look and I see that I made them, but I can't recall
it, or any of the circumstances.
Riess: Yes, and I don't really remember very many pictures that you
have taken that include both head and feet.
Lange: I'm doing them now. You find yourself changing. I've just
Lange: finished one section of my Asian thing, and everything it it is
absolutely direct. There isn't an oblique thing in it. And then
I found myself doing another section in which there isn't a single
direct thing. It all goes this way and that way. I didn't
know I was doing that, but then I saw that 1 had done it.
Riess: And when you were taking the pictures?
Lange: I must have felt that way about it at the time because I have the
Captioning and Exhibiting
Riess: Do you feel the need for caption comment to your pictures?
Have you ever really felt that it was more than an extra?
Lange: It depends on the nature of the job. For myself there's hardly
anything that I've done that couldn't be enhanced and fortified by
the right kind of comment. In fact, with some of my pictures that
are used the most, I constantly am putting into the envelope with
that negative, or if I don't have the negative, with the prints,
things that pertain to it, directly or indirectly, things that
happen historically that I know will increase the value of the
picture to others that I may have made twenty years ago.
Riess: And these additions might change with the years.
Lange: Yes. Time magazine this week had a piece commemorating the
twentieth anniversary of the evacuation of the Japanese-
Americans in which they spoke of it being on our national
Lange: conscience, and quoting some of the people whose statements
I so well remember at the time, showing them in the light
of history as having been gravely mistaken. Such material
is very interesting to put along with what you did at the
time. I collect every snatch that 1 can on migratory labor,
which is very much in the news now, everywhere, and put it
with the things that I made twenty or twenty- five years
ago, which I might have made yesterday. This is a mighty
interesting thing. Not many things don't change in twenty
years, not many things. This collapsed effort of unionization,
you see, too.
All photographs- -not only those that are so-called
"documentary," and every photograph really is documentary and
belongs in some place, has a place in history--can be fortified
by words. I don't mean that they should have poetic captions.
Any photographer looking out at the world he lives in does
many things that will be valuable, even the commercial boys
down on Shattuck Avenue, the fellows who do the wedding and
school pictures. That's all documentary material of greatest
interest, in so many ways.
Riess: Sometimes a photographer will say, in lieu of caption,
"These photographs speak for themselves." The implication
seems to be that he is asking more of the person viewing
the photograph, asking that he give more of himself.
Lange: Well, I don't like the kind of written material that tells
a person what to look for, or that explains the photograph.
I like the kind of material that gives more background,
that fortifies it without directing the person's mind. It
just gives him more with which to look at the picture. A
caption such as "Winter in New England" only tells you that
it's New England. The picture should indicate that it's
winter. That caption shouldn't be necessary. But you could
say: "This part of the country is, contrary to the rest
of the country, losing its population." You could say:
"People are leaving this part of the United States which was
really the cradle of democratic principles bred there in the
very early days of our country." Such things could give you
a different look into winter in New England. They need not
be your own ideas. They could be things which as you go
along you collect and put in your file. This is speaking
ideally. And when you leave that file, you leave a body
of work there which is not all original but it would have
foundations to it. I would like to do that, but of course I
can't because I don't have time to do anything but a kind
of a haphazard thing. But I can conceive of a photographic
file--by an artist, not by a photo-historian- -where words
were used in that way.
Now my Asian things, with the title "Remembrance of Asia,"
Lange: are all of what I got in Asia, nothing that is done country
by country like a travelogue. It is things that have come to
my mind about Asia, based on what I saw there, which recall it
to me. It is the thing by itself, when I remember it. And I
have that general title which I want to use for it. It will be
in five or six episodes, or sections. One of them is a letter
that I wrote to my older son and his wife from the train. It
was an all-day train trip and I wrote this letter off and on,
all day. The third section in "Remembrance of Asia" is this
letter which brings it back to me very vividly, and I didn't
think anything very much of it excepting they took it up and
used it so much, and Dan insisted that I try to do this. I
hadn't deliberately illustrated that letter, but I have eight
things that I'm using in connection with it. I couldn't illustrate
the letter because I couldn't photograph from that train. The
windows were dirty and it was an impossibility. But there
are things [photographs] that go with it, though there will
be no other words but the letter.
And there's another section which is eyes of Asian
children, just eyes, nothing else. They won't need any words.
But my first section will need a few. I don't know just where
they're going to come from, but I have time.
Then I'm going to do a section on villagers, all kinds
of villagers. You hear a lot about villagers, not particularly
Lange: localized, and they don't have to be, they should be so heavily
Asian that it doesn't make any difference; the section would be
on the village as a characteristic of Asian life. I'd want it
understood by Americans, and there there would have to be some
Riess: You have said that you felt now you could, if able, do your
best work. How, then, would you now do an article like the
Life picture-story on the Irish? [March 21, 1955]
Lange: Well, what happened with that was that I just came back with
a big harvest, and I had an idea how I would like to have done
it, but what you do generally is just come back with a big
harvest of pictures and they are dumped on a desk in the office
and then the make-up man and the art layout man and the editor
and the picture-editor will hash out what--they like this and they
like that and they like this and they like thatand then the
layout man goes off in a huddle and tries to make some kind of
a layout which has sense.
Riess: Then it's quite out of one's control?
Lange: Well, it isn't entirely out of your control because if they did
something that was false you'd say, "No, you can't do that."
Sometimes they do it anyway, but I mean to say that it's
just a different use of the same material.
Something like that takes they sent a man over to
Ireland to get all those names, which I didn't get. Yes, they
Lange: sent both a man and a girl, the two of them, over to Ireland,
and they traipsed all over those two counties with the pictures
to identify the people. Life magazine does very fantastic things.
But I wanted to make the article entirely a picture of Ireland
in the rain, every one of them in the rain. I thought it was
well-done, though, from their point of view. They didn't come
out with anything that was bad.
Riess: How did you get into the work with Steichen on the "Family of
Man" exhibition? Did you move to New York for it?
Lange: Let me see when I first heard of it. I'd have to dredge that
out. It was maybe 1951 that it started. And when did it finally
go up? 1955? I remember that I went east in September of 1952
to work with Steichen on a show I was going to have at the Museum
of Modern Art and when I got there he was so engrossed with
the "Family of Man" that he forgot all about what I came for and
[laughter] a couple of years ago he sat down and gave me hell
for not having consulted him on that show. He said to me,
"You know, I've been wanting to tell you this for years. I never
could quite understand what you did when you came east. You never
consulted me on that show." And you know he really believed
that, when what he did was to absolutely turn me down. I
couldn't get his attention. He went to Europe in the middle of
the time that I was there in order to make speeches all over
Europe to corral material for the "Family of Man." He made that
Lange: trip twice to Europe and, as an example of how oddly things go,
there's a persuasive man who can go anywhere and command
attention, and he got no response at all. Every one was very
glad to gather together and listen to what he wanted and
his descriptionand he can certainly engender interest and
fcxcitement--but the net result was zero. Not zero, nothing is
zero, but certainly not enough to justify what he put into
Riess: So how did he get the quantities of material together?
Lange: Well, it was a dredging process. It was digging in to get
them, not making a big public call for them. They had to
be found. Many of the pictures in that show I had a hand in
Riess: By going to Europe?
Lange: No, no, no. I just found them, and got them. Wrote to where
they were or this or that, just the way you do, not any concerted
effort. But every idea I had I used. I sent him in a lot of
things from newspapers and my own clippings, things that I remember
I had seen. And a good deal came out of that. One thing would
lead to another, you see. Then he hired Wayne Miller to go
through magazine files. And it was a very confusing and compli-
cated process, not much rhyme or reason to it. He [Steichen]
came out here twice and twice I collected under one roof all the
photographers that I knew or had heard of, not just the few.
Lange: There was a time when it looked as thougi there wasn't going to
be any show. It looked as though he was going to have to hire
people to go out and make pictures. There were times when it
looked like one great big failure.
One day, in fact, he said to me in New York, "I know
now that I can now proceed. I know that I am going to have a
show. I have enough up on the wall upstairs," in a little
romm which was under lock and key, "I have enough up there so
that I'm now confident." And he gave me the key and I went
up to look--there was a little room tucked up on the top floor
of the museum and it was a kind of little storeroom- -and I went
in there and I looked and my heart fell, because I didn't see
it. And I was sure that he was whistling in the dark.
Riess: This was before things were enlarged and arranged?
Lange: Oh, yes. Oh, that only came at the very end, the last two weeks.
Some of the prints on the wall at the opening of the Family of
Man were--you put your hand on them and the paste would
squeeze out. [Laughter] They had just been done that afternoon.
That's his method. He worked up to a terrific climax where every-
body doesn't sleep for three or four days and they work day
and night and they live on black coffee and he gets it done.
But on the afternoon of the day when the show was opening that
night they were still making prints, and many of the prints were
wretched. Very poor as prints. But Steichen took it in his
Lange: stride and that's the way it came out.
Riess: He didn't try to revise and improve it after the opening?
Lange: No, no, he's no fellow to dither around with things. 1^ might
have. 1^ might have kept on working. He has the great quality
of accepting imperfection as being part of a thing. Nothing
need be perfect. It isn't called for, and maybe not even desirable.
I'm worried by imperfection; I can't let go until it's as good
as I know it can be under the circumstances. He lets go short
of that point because his spiritual drive encompasses it, confidence
that sometimes a good thing is good almost because it's so bad
and yet good in spite of it, he knows that.
Now I don't think that the new show, the big show that
the Urban League was going to do, is ever going to come off.
It's of the same scope and it's on race relations. I don't
think it's ever going to happen.
Riess: Is Steichen in charge of that show too?
Lange: Well, they had a lot of money and they persuaded him. And they've
gone part way, selected most of the pictures and paid for them.
But I don't think it's going to happen, and the reason is that
I think things are happening too fast in race relations. It's
no time to do that one, as a comprehensive, overall thing.
Riess: It's the time to be taking the pictures.
Lange: Yes, but not making the show.
Observations and Hopes for the Future
Lange: I may be in Egypt next year, for eight months. Paul is going to
Egypt and so I'll be photographing in Africa if I photograph.
I'm not, myself, entirely willing to go, not now. I don't
really feel like going into a continent like that continent
and trying to work there. It's staggering to me. Oh, I
might do a couple of assignments there, but I'd much rather work
in my own country.
Riess: There are many projects you want to finish, aren't there?
Lange: Oh, yes, and I've got to try to get them mostly done before
I go. That's this year, this winter. But it looks as though it's
going to be Alexandria in the spring.
In the last couple of years I've been working on a rather
different level. My illness had something to do with it, and I
now feel that
Lange: I have a right, that it's more important that I now say how I
feel about something than it ever was before. I have always been
sort of a channel for other people. But I am aware of when the
change happened, and it was sharp. It is the difference between
being a conscious and an unconscious artist. I've denied the
role of artist. It embarrassed me, and I didn't know what they
were talking about. And as far as the argument about whether
photography is or is not an art, I've thought that it was a
useless and a stupid argument. Anyone who spent their time and
energy getting involved in this, well, they gave themselves
away. I always thought that what people called "art" was a by-
product, something that happens, a "plus-something" that happens
when your work is done, if it's done well enough, and intensely
enough, you know. I still think that's true. But there comes
a time when you have a right to ask someone to stop and look at
something because this is what you think is important, you think
is important. Do you see? If someone says, "I suppose you're
an artist?" I will say, "I may be." I'll say that, where
five years ago I would have said, "No."
Riess: How about putting it in terms of more or less creative?
Lange: Creative? I don't know what it means. I think we are creative
in every blessed thing we do, all of us. We may create havoc!
[Laughter] Oh, I may use the word loosely sometimes. Like
Charlie Eames is a creative fellow because he can twist a piece
of paper into something that no one else can twist it into,
Lange: you know. Creative is a kind of a fancy word; it doesn't really
plumb the depths of the real performance, the performance of
a genuine artist. He's come to the place where he Is. I go
over some of the things that I have done in this Sutter Street
period and I see plainly that I'm exactly the same person, doing
the same things in different forms, saying the same things.
It's amusing sometimes to me to look at my own early endeavors
and, "There she is, there she is again!" It's built-in. Some
things are built in.
Riess: Then what are you adding in your recent work?
Lange: Perspective, for one thing. And the whole matter is now unified.
I know now what I can speak about best because I have been there.
I've been through the wind-tunnel. [Laughter]
Although I suppose there are a lot of people who say
this. I remember one shocking thing that happened to me with a
painter who showed us all the pot-boilers, and apologized for them,
and then he said, "Now I'm going to show you my real work." And
it was just the same. We deceive ourselves. But I'm quite
sure as far as I'm concerned that in this respect I'm not
deceiving myself. And it's not that I'm following along with
what people- tell me. I know where I am all right and where I
am still failing. Same old failures, too, same ones. But it's
a kind of an equation, out of which there is a product, and that's
unmistakable, and you can't evade it. And the outlines of that
product became clearer after in my case never letting go of it.
Lange: Maybe I might have at times. Never really letting go of it.
Now I know why. Now I know why. It wasn't just stubbornness.
Of course, as you go along there are different things
that are important to you. At the moment I have no thing to
answer to, no one to answer to, no one else's eyes and mind to
think of, as I'm doing this job that I'm doing, but my own.
I don't know whether I said this before to you, but that makes
a very much more difficult job, a much more engrossing thing to
do, because it reveals not only what you saw but your own purpose,
your purpose and not the purpose of the editor or the director
of the institute for whom you're working, or to fit in with other
things. In fact its usefulness becomes obscure but its purpose
doesn't. And that's different. And I think I could now do my
best work. Dttrer, you know, way back in fourteen hundred and
something, said, "I draw from the secrets of my heart." And that's
what I have, in the end. That's what it comes to and that's
the best. Provided, of course, you've got an educated heart and
a sense of some kind of general responsibility. The secret places
of the heart are the real mainsprings of one's action.
Riess: It sounds almost as if it is out of your control.
Lange: It's hard to reach it, hard to reach it... Before then you do
things which you know will be recognizable and understandable.
And you have in your mind the common denominator as a kind of
a leveling place, beyond which you can't stray too far or else
Lange: you will be defying or denying these laws of communication that
we hear so much about this effort to make communication a
science and to put down prescriptions for it which amount to
things that must have an element in them which is understandable to
all. Well, that's very important. You have to go to that school.
You don't dare deny it, but then, after that this is my present
theory you come to the place where you say, "It doesn't make any
difference" whether many people see what you meant when you chose
this little thing, this obscure photograph which has in it some
turn that the big, brilliant, much more obvious and. much more
attractive thing, much more vigorous, with wider appeal, doesn't.
You focus on that other. And it leads you to odd places but
it's fun. I'm enjoying very much what I'm doing now.
Riess: It doesn't matter to you whether you leave something that people
will readily understand.
Lange: It doesn't really matter because you know enough to know that that
is true. And actually it's your contribution. And you know
it's true, and you know that it will take its place. In short,
you're not afraid any more. That's what it amounts to. You're
not begging anyone to accept it. That's gone. And you've done
your duty on the other side of things. I don't know whether
this makes any sense.
Riess: Photographers often talk about their role as one of interpreting
the everyday, forcing people to a second, more revealing glance
at life, but what you're speaking of is even a step beyond that.
Lange: It's the addition of that certain little thing that only you
can do. Now that isn't to say that that makes you a great
artist. But it puts you in the company of those who say that
if they didn't do it, no one would be saying it right now. Later
on, someone else may come. These things have a way of repeating
themselves. It's the essential uniqueness that comes out of
the inside of your own nature. Now you can't just go out and
say, "I'm going to express myself." It's not like that. It's
not finding a turn that nobody else has done so far, for the sake
of itself. It's not that. It's something that you have to have
earned. In your own sight you have to have earned the right.
I think that's true. At least, for myself I have to feel I have
earned it. I don't ask it of others. There is no one channel.
But I'm just speaking of myself at the moment.
Riess: Perhaps you couldn't recognize it if you hadn't earned it.
Lange: Perhaps that's true. That may be the explanation. But I repeat,
I could now, I believe, at a time when I have such feeble
energies, I could now do my best work, I know.
I cannot do this or that, I say, and how much I would
really like to devote myself to really living the kind of life
that I know it takes. I only know enough about it to know what
it takes. This is either impossible for me, or I am not
sufficiently ruthless to do it. I have to do this, that and the
Lange: other. I would disappoint my family very much if I devoted
myself to photography. I'd have to step out. And as far as my
husband is concerned, he would understand it, but he wouldn't
know how to adjust to it, really. You might say, and I say to
myself, that it isn't the amount of time it takes. But you know
that tomorrow morning you have to see somebody who's coming
from Asia, just for an hour, and tomorrow afternoon at five-
thirty you have to go to a cocktail party and a dinner in honor
of someone- -those things you have to do.
But what it takes to pursue my purposes is uninterruped
time, or time that you interrupt when you want to interrupt it.
It means living an utterly different way of life, inexplicable
to some people. My closest friends will call me in the middle
of the morning and say, "Oh, are you busy? I'll just take a
minute, but... would you do me a great favor... and, so on and
so on." I had thought maybe I would be a little stiffer about
it, with myself and with others. But I don't think it's going
to be possible. I think that's pretty well decided. I
would like to do it. But it would be this kind of thing. And
I'm not focusing this entirely on myself, I'm speaking of the
difference between the role of the woman as artist and the man.
Tlu- re- is a sharp difference, a ulf. The woman's position is
immeasurably more complicated. There are not very many first-
class woman producers, not many. That is producers of outside
Lange: things. They produce in other ways. Where they can do both,
it's a conflict. I would like to try. I would like to have one
year. I'd like to take one year, almost ask it of myself, "Could
I have one year?" Just one, when I would not have to take into
account anything but my own inner demands. Maybe everybody would
like that... but I can't.
Rioss: It seems like the thing one owes oneself, but very hard to do
Lange: It's almost impossible. Almost.
You know what today is? Today is the first day of Autumn. Have
you felt it? Today it started. The summer ended this afternoon
at two o'clock. All of a sudden. The air got still, a
different smell, a kind of a funny, brooding quiet. Today it
happened. I was out and I was just so aware of it. Can you
feel it? And the cracks in my garden are wide. Today's the
Adams, Ansel, 115,190,191,200,201
Albers, Clem, 186
Albright, Gertrude Partington, 108
Amana society, 184
AFofL,CIO, and farm workers, 162
Bnlclwin, Anita, 126-136,147
Baldwin, Baldwin, 1'35
Barrows, Albert, 142
Bender, Albert, 112-116
Borein, Ed, 103
Bremer, Anne, 114
Briuere, Martha, 24,25
Caen, Herb, 119-121
California State Relief Administration, 153,159-162
Caylor, Arthur, 120
Collier, John, 201
Conrad, Barnaby, 119
Co-operative religious communities, 183-185
Co-operatives, unemployed exchange, 164-166
Cunningham, Imogen, 85,92,107,167
Davis, Charles H. , 45,47-51,55,56
Death of a Valley. 198,199
deMeyer, Baron, 43
the Depression, 144
Dixon, Constance, 98,125,136
Dixon, Daniel, 97, 101, 102, 109, 124, 136ff-144, 147, 152
Dixon Family (Mordecais), 96,97
Dixon, John, 97, 101, 102, 109, 136ff- 144, 147, 152
Dixon, Leslie, 21,22,109
Dixon, Maynard, 93-111,121-143,147,151,152
documentary photography, 146-159,204-209
Duncan, Charlie, 94,111
Duncan, Isadora, 60-63,70,71
Eames, Charles, 214
Edwards, Mary Jeanette, 167
801 Montgomery Street studio, 142,144
Eisenhower, Milton, 186
Eisenstaedt, Alfred, 202
Fallen Leaf Lake, 146-148
Family of Man. 209-212
Farm Security Administration, 167-178
Farm Security Administration, photographic division, 170-178,185,199
540 Sutter Street studio, 88,89
Ford Foundation, 163,176
Foster and Kleiser, 94,111
Frankenstein, Alfred, 120,121
Franklin, Sidney, 88,89
Garth, John, 116,117
Genthe, Arnold, 28-33,35,45,62
Guggenheim Foundation grant, 183
Haas, Mr. and Mrs. Walter A., 116
Hagemeyer, Johan, 107,108
Hague, Frank, 58
Harvey House, 133,134
Hayvood, Florence Bates, 66,78-84,89,93
Hine, Lewis W. , 155
Holder, Preston, 167
Hutterite society, 184
Imperial Valley, 160,162,163
Injun Babies. 125
Irish Country People. 208,209
Japanese relocation, 185-194,204,205, Manzanar camp, 188-191, 194, Tule
Lake camp, 192-194
Joseph, Sydney, 111
Joseph, Emily, 111
Kanaga, Consuela, 87,88
Kazanjian Studios, 32,33
Kent, Adeline, 142
Kerr, Clark, 164,165
Labaudt, Luc i en, 112
Labor, agricultural, 159-164
L.-mdon, John, 65-68,71
Lange, Dorothea: grandmother, 1-3,5,23,52; Aunt Caroline, 4,5; mother,
1-3,5-8,12-15,27,36,52,58,59,67,68; father, 2,71; elementary school,
11-15; high school, 23-27; Barnard, 28; and Jewish people, 13-15,18;
lameness, 17-19; teachers, 28-57; comes to San Francisco, 78-86; her
Sutter Street studio, 86-93; marriage to Maynard Dixon, 93ff-lll,121
ff-143; "documentary photographer," 146-159; government work (see by
individual agencies, also), 159-194; photographic techniques, 195-
Lange, Dorothea, photographer: cameras, 195-198; printing, 198-200,
cropping, 202,204; captioning, 204-209 (See also Table of Contents)
Last Ditch, 74
Laurie, Annie, 111
Library of Congress, 173,199
Life Magazine, 155,183,208,209
Lodge, Henry Cabot, 59
Longshore Strike. 1934, 150
Lorenz, Pare, 168
Ludekens , Fred W. , 94
L*ihan, Mabel Dodge, 136
Maloney, Tom, 190
Marsh and Co. , 84-86
Mary Elizabeth Inn, 82-84,86,89
May Day Demonstrations. 1933, 150,154
McCarthy, Senator Joseph, 150-152
Menuhin, Yehudi, 119
migrant mother, 199
migratory labor, 168, 174,175 (also, 159-164)
Miller, Wayne, 210
Museum of Modern Art, 115 (See also Family of Man)
Myer, Dillon S. , 186
Newhall, Beaumont, 146
New York Public Library, 150
Neyman, Percy, Ph.D., 45,87
O'Connor, Joe, 89
Office of War Information (OWI), 179-183
Older, Fremont, 111
Outerbridge, Paul, 43
Partridge, Roi, 85,94,107
Partridge, Ron, 147,148
Pfleuger, Timothy, 112
Piazzoni, Gottardo, 108-111
Pleiades Club, 65-68
Poole, Nelson, 112
Project One. 176
Public Defender, 183
Remembrance of Asia. 177,195,196,202-204,206-208
Resettlement Administration, 168-170,172
Riis, Jacob, 155
Rivera, Diego, 112,142,143
Roosevelt, Theodore, 57,58
Russell, Charles Marion, 102,103
Salinger, Jehanne, 112
Salz, Mrs. Ansley, 110
Sanderfield, Emily, 64,66,69,70
San Francisco bohemia, 105-117
San Francisco Japanese community (See Japanese relocation)
San Francisco Jewish community, 18,19,118,119
San Francisco myths, and mythmaking, 98-100,104,118,119
Sarony, Napoleon, 48
Schnier, Jacques, 142
728 Montgomery Street studio, 141,142
Shakespeare, William, performances of his work, 71,72
Stackpole, Ralph, 108-111
Steichen, Edward, 51,209-212
Stein, Gertrude, 116
Sterling, George, 111
Stern, Isaac, 119
Stokowski, Leopold, 22,23
Strand, Paul, 138,139
Struss, Karl, 43,44
Stryker, Roy, 168-173,185
Survey Graphic. 154,167
Taos, New Mexico, 136
Taylor, Paul, 159-167,176,213,219
Time Magazine, 204,205
Tolan, Denise, 93
Tolan, John, 93
Tugwell, Rex, 168,169
Tyler, Lou, 45,87
Unemployed Exchange Co-operatives (UXA) , 164-166
United Nations Charter, 179,180
Vanderbilt, Paul, 171
VanDyke, Willard, 167
VanSloun, Frank, 112
Vasey, Tom, 161
War Relocation Authority (WRA) , 185
Warren, Earl, 191,192
Weston, Edward, 108
White, Clarence, 36-44,74,75
Wilson, Woodrow, 57,59
Winter, William, 120
Wood, Charles Erskine Scott, 111,112
A. A Memorial Service for Dorothea Lange 227
B. Obituary by Wayne Miller for Magnum 245
C. "A Photography Center," a proposal by Dorothea
Lange, July 1965 (Includes Project 1) 247
D. San Francisco Chronicle Obituary 251
Some notations of the last days and hours of
Dorothea Lange Taylor 252
F. Letter from Paul Taylor to Dr. W.L. Rogers 253
Letter from Paul Taylor to Miss Brenda Lyon 254
Interview by The Berkeley Review. January
"Recording Life-in-Process," an assessment of
Dorothea Lange 1 s photography by Margaret Weiss
in Saturday Review. March 5, 1966 257
A MEMORIAL SERVICE
Organ (John T. Burke)
Selections from Handel
Bach's Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring
A Prologue (Conrad Bonifazi)
Allan Teako (Dorothea Lange as Artist)
Daniel Rhodes Dixon (Dorothea Lange within her family)
Christina B. Gardner (Dorothea Lange as Woman and Photographer)
The California Wind Quintet
Mozart's Adagio and Allegro, arranged by Ross Taylor
Martin Luther's Eine Feste Burg
Chapel of the Pacific School
of Religion Berkeley
A MEMORIAL SERVICE FOR
DOROTHEA LAXGE 1895-1965
Selections from Handel (Concerto grosso)
Jeou, Joy of Man's Desiring (Bach)
The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath
are the everlasting aims. (Deut.33.27)
The souls of the righteous arc in tho hand of
God and no torment shall touch them. In the
sight of the unwise they seemed to die; and
their departing is taken for misery, and their
going from us, utter destruction: but they are
in peace. (Wisdom of Solomon 3.1-3)
Hone of us liveth to himself, and no nan dieth
to himself. For whether we live , :.\: 1 ivc unto
the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the
Lord: whether we live, therefore, or die, we
are the Lord's. (Romans 13.7-8)
To God all things ore alive, come lot us
adore him. (Matins of the Dead)
Eternal God whose cosmic power stands at last revealed
in Jesus Christ as personal love, and within whose grace and
strength our lives are spent, we vorship thee.
As from manifold paths of life - from the worlds of
science, the arts and public service, of hone and university -
thou bringest us together in this hour, by the memory of a de-
parted friend, so also make us aware that within the intermin-
able conflicts of this world thou art forever gathering the
separated peoples of the earth into one family of man.
Within thy world-wide embrace, we, too, are all enfolded,
'safe, though all safety's lost': therefore teach us how to be
enlarged within the constraints and poignancy of our circum-
stances. May this day's solemn memory serve thy creative pur-
poses as the vision and compassion and fortitude of Dorothy Longo
renew their strength and vigour within our persons. Let her
memory, Lord, nourish and comfort us upon our mortal Journey.
- a -
Let us hear the Scriptures at Psalm 90 in King James's
Version; then Archbishop Cranmer's word in Shakespeare's
Henry VIII which is spoken of Queen Elizabeth I of England,
but rooted in the prophetic hope of ancient Israel - the
hope of mankind nourished and at peace; a passage from which
Dorothea Lange drew strength, and within which she recognized
some of her dearest aspirations. And lastly the opening words
of the tventy- first chapter of the Book of Revelation.
Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst
formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to
everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.
Thou turneot man to destruction; and soyest, Return, ye
children of men.
For a thousand years in thy sip,ht are but as yesterday when
it is past, and as a watch in the night.
Thou carriest them away as with a flood; they are as a sleep;
in the morning they are like grass which groweth up.
In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up; in the evening
it is cut down, and withered.
The dc.ys of our years are threescore years and ten;
and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is
their strength labour and sorrow; for it is ooon cut off, and
we fly away.
So teach us to number our days , that we may apply our hearts
satisfy us early with thy mercy; that we may rejoice and be
glad all our days.
Moke us glcd according to the days wherein thou- hast afflicted
us, and the years wherein we have seen evil.
Let thy work appear unto thy servants , and thy glory unto their
And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us; and establish
thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands
establish thou it.
Good rcws with her.
In her dcys every men shall ec.t in safety
Under his own vine what he plants, and sing
The merry songs of peace to all his neighbours.
Cod shall be truly known; and those aV.out her.
From her shall read the perfect ways of honour.
And by those claim their greatness, not by blood.
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the
first heaven and the first earth were passed away;
and there was no more sea.
And I, John, sav the holy city, new Jerusalem,
coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a
bride adorned for her husband.
And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying,
Behold, the tabernacle of God is with rcen and he
will dwell with them, and th*y shall be his people,
and God himself shall be with them, and be their God,
And God shall wipe away all tears, from their eyes;
and there shall be no more death , neither sorrow
nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain:
for the former things are passed away.
Prologue to Three Tributes
When Ecclesiastes , the Preacher, informs us that
to everything there is a season, and a time to-
every purpose under the heaven: a time to be
born and a time to die . . . (3,1-3)
he la measuring time, not by ito duration, but by ito content.
We are measuring theoe moments by the life and death of
Dorothea Lange. For us, she is the content of this time.
Three of her friends will hold open the door of memory,
and ve shall glimpse her through their eyes, and wonder again
at the remarkable woman who by thic means is partially
restored to us, and through this act of remembering, will
take her place in our personal awarenesses of life and find
a niche in our individual histories.
This remarkable possibility resides in our nature:
human beings are not simply objects in space, but consist
also of inward dimensions capable of overflowing, of extending
themselves, into the lives of others. This means that all
of us have a kind of existence in other people; to some degree
ve are a part of them, and they are a part of us. So when they
leave us, and we ore left, they are never quite, never
absolutely gone. And those who have been closely related to
us by love or work, continue to enrich us with the quality
of their characters, through our remembering.
Fortunately this mutual sharing of our persons does
not always depend upon immediate contacts with each other. People
nay be reported to us; we nay encounter their work; and thece
evidences suffice to exert a personal power upon us.
Thus I, too, a stranger, looked and listened , and was con-
fronted by an authentic human being whose profound and penetrating
vision of life could unlock in n.cn's eyes the frozen seas of compassion , and
through the very face of squalor, neglect and forsakenness, could moke us
all feel the beating heart of humanity.
But the mark of her maturity was this: that thoughtfully, industri-
ously, within diminishing strength, having heard the sentence of death,
she was not consumed by her own grief, but could direct her life towards
others. In Christian terms this was triumph of a very high order.
Of death itself we cannot speak, but do not let us thin); that
therefore it is without honour, or gravity, or creative power. It is a
definitive force in our lives. The night cometh, said Jesus, when no nan
can work (John 9- 1 *). Darkness and immobility must descend, yet they give
urgency to the working day. We are not merely creatures whose lives, so
far as we know, are bounded by death; but people whose lives may be en-
hanced and vitalized, here and now, by the power and reality of death. The
New Testament wishes to assert that unless we come to terms with death's
inevitability we cannot aspire to be fully human; or as the poet Rilke
For -we are but the leaf and the skin.
The great death which each one has within
is the fruit around which all revolves.
Dorothea Langc came to terno with her own death; she lived
beyond it; and will continue to do so while men have eyes for her
work and a place in their hearta. To-day's remembrance grants her
a conditioned immortality, for she will be amongst us aa a humbling and
purifying presence, sharpening our awareness of the kind of people we
are, and perhaps, even shaping thoughts of the kind of people we ought
Therefore, it would be false to life, merely to mourn her passing.
We must also rejoice, in the life that was given us, and be thankful
lor .herdeath which may yet become for ua a milestone upon our pilgrimage
to authentic human existence and genuine freedom in this world.
Allan Temko Dorothea Lange as Artist
Daniel Rhodes Dixon Dorothea Lange within her family
Christina B. Gardner Dorothea Lange as a woman and photographer.
DOROTHEA LAHGE: THE MASTER ARTIST AS HUMANIST
Truly great art, such as Dorothea Lange's, belongs so com-
pletely to its own time that it transcends time, and belongs to all
civilization to come. The underlying principle of classic art of
course is not sioply permanence, for many worthless things are rela-
tively longlasting. Its main principle is intrinsic excellence. And
such excellence rests not on technique, although every great artist is
necessarily a great technician -- and Dorothea was one of the finest.
Such excellence is the resultant of spiritual and intellectual insight
which leads the artists to discover where others do not seek even to
find -- new truths in the cause of nan.
This classic search for truth, and not superficial style, is
the supreme unifying force of fine art, drawing wisely upon time past,
passionately and intelligently involving itself in the full complexity
of the present, fearlessly confronting the future. It unites Phidias
and the Master Builders of Chartres, Michelangelo and Frank Lloyd Wright,
and Dorothea Lange.
When I was young, Alfred Stftglitz said to me: "I would
rather have the smallest blade of grass, so long as it is true, than
the biggest papier-ma"ch tree in the world." Stitglitz, too, was a
great photographer whose mind was generously open to all the other
arts, as Dorothea's was. The art of such photographers is essentially
the art of perception; and its beauty, its highest mystery, resides in
their capacity to make us see through their prismatic intelligence.
They confer upon us the gift of sight.
And sc, when Dorothea saw an apple pie or an auto junkyard,
a burly San Francisco cop or an exquisite Nepalese, she saw truly.
She sax* the degraded Victorian family hone behind the used car sign;
she saw humble cooking utensils assembled nobly at a primitive family
hearth. She saw hope in a baby, and despair in an empty cup.
This was not merely social observation, but a supreme form
of social analysis, free of dogma and cant, utterly liberated from
triviality, although no subject was too small, or too modest, for her
compassionate examination. Thus it was not only the accuracy and com-
prehensiveness of her perception, but the love which accompanied it --
a purely distilled compassion which was never tainted by sentimentality
-- that made Dorothea one of the most powerful critics of our time.
That is why her great photographs of the Depression still carry residual
truth that moves us as no rudimentary "social realism" can, truth some-
times as terrible as the parched and blowing earth, but as magnificent
as the mother who, in the midst of tragedy as overwhelming as any Greek
scene of terror and pity, clasps her children to her, and with superb
humanity confronts the fates.
The heroic scale of such photographs is the scale of man
facing forces beyond his individual control. What deepens the tragic
irony is Dorothea's awareness, implicit in all of her work, that
together we need not be at the mercy of negative forces which human
reason can not only bring under control, but turn into a positive
direction that could lead us to a new society altogether.
In this aspect cf her work she was a remarkable
environmental theorist and, in the highest sense, an environmental
designer. Perhaps it is not sufficently realized, in these days
of rigidly drawn professional lines among architects, planners, and
other environmental designers, that we are all makers of our environ-
ment. Dorothea knew this, and she did not hesitate to commit the
full strength of her art and her social conviction into the struggle --
and she above all knew how complex and difficult struggle is -- to
conserve and improve the environment, to create a truly bio-technic
environment which will serve man rather than machines, in an epoch
of incessant technological innovation.
Thus we can all thank her for the marvelous burnt orange
color of the Golden Gate Bridge (for it was her idea to paint it
that way), just as we can be thankful for her demonstration of what
the death of a valley can be. How painful "the bite of the bulldozer
can be, she who loved the earth and its people -- knew better
than any professional planner.
For she recognized that uncontrolled technology, which in
its present insensate applications to the natural world has become
ferocious technocracy, is the chief threat to civilized existence
today: the technocracy of smog and water pollution as much as the
technocracy of intransigent, unfeeling bureaucracies. For her,
human beings and the other creatures of this earth came first.
Not that she hated technology. Anyone who ever saw her
hold a camera -- and how magically she held the beautiful Leica
which seemed inevitably created for her incomparable hands -- could
see her admiration for the solid refinement and careful technical
thought which were so clearly expressed in this jewel-like instrument
of her art. She defended, with a gay, tender fierceness, the techni-
cal basis of her art, which of course was in some ways a craft as
well as fine art. She disliked the word "picture" when it was sub-
stituted for "photograph" because it seemed at odds with the precise
nature of her concept of photography. Her conceptual scope was very
broad, but it could also be brought to an extremely fine focus.
Her appreciation of the full potentialities of technology,
which could transform this earth into an Eden, therefore led her to
oppose all sorts of follies. Although she was a Yea-sayer, she under-
stood that the best way to say Yes nowadays, when so much is done
badly, is often to say No. But she was not a Jeremiah, striding
about the ravaged Promised Land, stridently denouncing abominations:
she quietly offered positive examples of excellence. Mies van der Rohe
once remarked: "I don't want to be 'interesting 1 ; I want to be
good." Although Dorothea would never have said it that way, she too
was never given to the superficially interesting: her goodness, in
her work and personal life, which were really inseparable, waa
In considering Dorothea as a complete person, rather than
as an artist -- if that distinction can be made, I tried to think of
other Americans who combined her particular virtues and who shared
her specific vision. For she was so American, even though her heart
and nind were open to the world at large, that it is difficult to
think of her art even though it is as denationalized as music or
science -- as anything but American in the finest tradition of the
Republic. For its fundamental premise is human liberty and dignity.
And in thinking of other American artists, Thoreau came
naturally to mind. For Dorothea surely endorsed his conviction that
"to be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, or to
found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live a life of simplicity,
independence, magnanimity, and trust." That is a pretty good des-
cription of Dorothea's own philosophy, I think, and in pondering
Thoreau 1 s words I recalled Emerson's final tribute to him at a
commemorative gathering something like this one.
"There is a flower known to botanists," said Emerson, "ones
cf the same genus with our summer planTcalled 'Life-Everlasting' ...
which grows on the most inaccessible cliffs of the Tyrolece mountains,
where the chamois dare hardly venture, and which the hunter tempted
by its beauty, and by his love (for it is immensely valued by Swiss
maidens), climbs the cliffs to gather, and is sometimes found dead
at the foot, with the flower in his hand. It is called by botanists
the Gnaphaliura leontopodium, but by the Swiss Edelweisse, which
signifies Noble Purity."
At the highest reaches of modern civilization, those
forbidding crags which few can discern let alone climb, Dorothea
plucked that flower for us all. For her own life, lived with the
noblest purity, the clearest vision, and the most unassuming bravery,
was in itself the greatest of her works of art. In presenting all
to us with an open heart, her life and her art, with the precious
flower clutched in her hand to the end, she conferred upon us, and
on generations to come as long as civilized existence remains, the
gift of life as it should be lived, truly.
Words Spoken by Daniel Dixon on October 30, 1965
At Memorial Services for Dorothea Lange
I'd like to speak for a moment of what my mother meant to her
family - and of what her family meant to my mother.
She was an intensely domestic woman-- one whose feeling of family ,
for family, was almost mystical. Sometimes, when she wanted this
feeling, she would recite a nonsense rhyme preserved from her
girlhood. It was a kind of ceremony. "Ve belong to a club vot's
fine, she usud to say. The President's name is Fi nk lestei n."
She was right. We did we do-- belong to a club. But the
President's name was not Finklesteln; while she lived, the
President's name was Dorothea, Around her circled a complex
kinship of lives lives that shared nothing so much in common
as that each was in some way shaped and enlightened by this
extrordinary woman. Her influence was felt in everything from
imposing matters of Jinance to the care of the .household plants.
The highly colored details of family life -- nothing was more
important to her than that. At nothing did she work harder. In
nothing did she work harder. In nothing, I oelieve, was she more
successful. In this way, too, she had genius.
I think I can best describe what Dorothea's presence meant to her
family and best describe the loss we feel if I read you a letter.
It was one of many received by us here at home while Dorothea
and Paul were in the Far East a few years ago.
Dear He len:
The next time you go shopping in the Co-op, think of me, as I
thought of you this morning, in the Central Market of Manila.
This is a market like our 10 th Street Market in Oakland, or the
Crystal Palace in ban Francisco. u ow I wis.eo for you to be there
with me. IVe would have come off with bags and bags of all kinds
of loot] John, Paul or the children would have enjoyed it not at all.
Even I found the heat and the flies and the crowds hard to take at
moments and I kept my eye on the nearest way out; for the people
are packed solid in the narrow aisles before -the stalls and you
are pushed along with vendors yelling Jn your ears and puddles
of dirty standing water under your feet where you wade through. But
the reason for doing it is the feast for the eyes]
All the beautiful fish and strange sea-life of the tropics is
spread out before you in one section of this carnival. Great
baskets of all manner of lobsters, crabs, shrimps, clams, in all
sizes and colors and all manner of things I never saw or dreamed
of. And gleaming fish- all kinds, all sizes - laid on banana
leaves and all the stange leaves and herbs with which they cook
them. Some of the sea-life they cook right there under your eyes,
in leaves and herbs, and wrap in bamboo and you eat. If you
buy for your household you either carry away In your hands, unwrapped
or you bring your own paper to wrap. Then the crowd suddenly backs
away from a middle path and you get jammed against the fish In
the stall to make way for 2 men bear.incj a bio whole fresh-
roasted pig. Strung on a bamboo pole. And then you find a corner,
onl" to be surrounded bv fresh cocoanuts, which fellows crack with
or -at knives and grind the meat. Five centavos (24.^) for a
baofull. Scooped up by your own hands. The whole market is festoon d
by bananas, green ones and orange ones and red ones, massed with
the yellow ones. And when I got into the fruits and vegetables
there my eyes couldn't take in the bewildering variety and
beauty of growths and produce, most of which I had never before
even dreamed of. And all mixed up with flowers, which I had
never before seen or heard of. This is the tropics and these
dark brown people against all this fantasy of color (and beautiful
arrangements) and the thin brown hands moving in and around, in the
buying and selling, and inspecting and re-arranging on straw
mats and green leaves and basketfuls of mangos and loquats and
small golden unknowns and brilliant red eggplants and more
things which they use all mounted on bamboo poles, the most
delicate tiny peppers, and seeds like sea shells, and mountains
of greens, mountains of them, kind unknown. Festoons of garlic--
not a carrot did I see, nor a potato, nor an apple, nor a head
of lettuce. Nor one packaged thing. Just great baskets. Bright,
pink sweet potatoes and hot syrupy cakes, which they make on
braziers right there. And baskets of eggs, dyed all colors,
like Easter"eggs. These are from China- why colored I do not know-
most I y purp I e.
I'm back in the hotel room now, and quicKly writin- t K is to you
because you would have enjoyed it so. It was like goinn to a
symphony for the eyes, this time Instead of the ears. Flowering
banana stalks, I saw - imacine that, and orchids for sale by the
basket. ( 10 centavos )
This is what, so far, I have enjoyed in ,'Aanila. Will write about
other things - Hongkong, and matters in general, maybe tonight.
Much love to my darlings - to all my darlings.
I'll be remembering this market when I push the cart with Lisa-
baby in It, around the Co-op,
To live with or around such a woman as Dorothea was always, In
some way, suprising. We were never quite prep'ared for her poetry,
her flashing insights, her courage, her humor, her generosities
or sometimes, her failures of patience, her restless complexity,
the intrusions of her will. We were none of us prepared for her
Yet there were some things, that we could always expect that
were entirely predictable the jokes and gestures and events,
that, repeated time after time, year after year, became a part
of our lives. This was largely due to Dorothea, and to her feeling
about the family. Within the family, as within a religion, she
believed in ceremony as a renewal of faith and in ritual as an
act of devotion. Sometimes these ceremonies were beautiful.
Every year at Christmas, for a lumi.nous few minutes our tree
glows with candlelicht. And sometimes these ceremonies were
homely, but none the less meaningful. And during those last
few hours, whi le my brother held one hand and I the other, and
when her breath was so labored that she could scarcely speak,
we all recited it together for the final time:
11 Ve belong to a club vot's fine
The President's name is Finklestein,
Und every morning about a quarter to nine
Ve go to de teatre und ve have a fine time* "
A TRIBUTE FOR DOROTHEA LANGE, OCTOBER 30, 1965
In the beginning, elementary life is supposed to have crawled from the
primeval oozes of the seas into sunshine. Into sunshine means crawling
into light. Light means something special to men, something In particular
to photographers. Light means illumination, and Dorothea's life above all
has been an illumination to those who have known her, either as a woman
or through her work.
The art of Dorothea's life consisted of richness of thought and simplification
of means. She enriched our experience rather than impoverishing it. Through the
fulfillment of her own special talents, she has given a great gift to us all. And
with this gift goes the responsibility of a friendship. She expected us to be con-
cerned with the things that concerned her. And in this regard, she left us with
some unfinished business.
In the papers this very month, there have been announcements of three
matters which go deeply back into Dorothea's life. The first was the announce-
ment that Sonoma County is to receive $ 200,000, mostly of Federal monies,
to build portable and sanitary dwelling units for migratory farm workers. Child
care centers will be included.
The second matter reported the settlement of the last case in the United States
Court of Claims for part of the damages inflicted upon Japanese Americans during
World War II. The Koda family was interned in 1942. At that time they owned 4000
acres of rich farm land in Merced and Fresno Counties. They received damages
for a small fraction of their losses.
The third account began: "Two Ku Klux Klansmen who were acquitted in the
nightrider killing of a Negro educator last year, attacked a Negro photographer
yesterday and were promptly jailed. The photographer was also arrested."
And then there is the unfinished business of the future. Dorothea left us with
a proposal for an important photographic center. She left us with the injunction,
particularly to photographers, to preserve our land in (her phrase) "The New
California" . At least one of us has been working ardently on this vast project which
Dorothea considered so important. And I think she would say to us now that we
should take to heart the words that I saw one morning after an election outside
Sather Gate. The placard waving in the sunshine said: DON'T MOURN: ORGANIZE.
Erich Fromm has written some beautiful words which express best of all
what Doric's friendship meant. He said:
The most important sphere of giving, however, is hot that of material things,
but lies in the specifically human realm. What does one person give to another?
He gives of himself, of the most precious he has, he gives of his life. This
does not necessarily mean that he sacrifices his life for the other- but that he
gives him of that which is alive in him; he gives him of his joy, of his interest,
of his understanding, of his knowledge, of his humor, of his sadness- of all
expressions and manifestations of that which is alive in him. In thus giving of
his life, he enriches the other person, he enhances the other's sense of alive-
ness by enhancing his own sense of allveness. . . .In the act of giving something
is born, and both persons involved are grateful for the life that Is born for
both of them.
i :IH ibtiim Gardner
The California Wind Quintet
Mozart's Adagio ar.d Allep.ro
arranged by Rose
God, vho art from everlasting to everlasting,
fountain of mercy, light of life, ve thank thee for
the life thou gavest and hast nov taken away. V7c
thank thee for that infinite discretion within which
our friends are never wholly removed from us , but
continue to dwell with us , and engage with us in the
inner discourse of our lives.
We thank thee -for every remembrance of Dorothea
Lange, whosaname we cherish, and who is now a part
of ourselves. We praise thee for talents consecrated
to tho art of seeing, and a life dedicated to the art
of becoming human. We thank thee for her vivid sense
of man's predicament and her determination to augment
our human wellbeing.
We pray for her family, for those who were
immediately devoted to her, vho were privileged to
share in her endeavours and in the force aud goodness
of her art. Grant them, we beseech thee, a sense of
her nearness and a share in her triumphant spirit. May
her going never lead thc:r. to questions which misrepresent
the nature of life in this world, but rather to affirm-
ations of the depth and graciousness that is within all
We commend each other to thy grace and compassion.
As ve disperse and follow our appointed ways , go with
us now and grant that into whatever circumstances or
distances the way may lead, we may never stray beyond
the knowledge of that love which enfolds and carries us
The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make
his face' ~to shine upon you and be gracious unto you.
The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give
you peace. AMEN
Luther's Hymn: Ein 1 Feste Burg
OTOS.INC N.W York 72 West 45 Street. NY 10036 Tel 661-5040 Cable MAGNUMFOTO Part. 125 F.ubourg St Honore, Paris Be. T.I Elysee 15-19 Cable FOTOMAGNUM
Photography lost a leader when Dorothea Lange Taylor died of cancer, October
11, 1965. She was seventy.
As close friends, we will miss her love, compassion, brilliance, and enthu-
siasm. We will miss her greeting of "Vtoat's new in your life? Tell me all
about it." Dorothea will always be with us.
Although physically small and at times fragile, she was a giant made of spring
steel. Her greatnesc lay in her respect for mankind and in the importance of
the individual. However, she did have strong reservations about some of his
actions. She was not a photographer in the ordinary sense of the word. There
was nothing ordinary about Dorothea. Thirty-one years ago she sent to the
customers of her portrait studio this quotation from Francis Bacon:
The contemplation of things as they are,
without substitution or imposture, without
error or confusion, is in itself a nobler
thing than a whole harvest of invention.
This was her credo: A clear, unfettered, uncompromising, yet compassionate
use of the camera. It is no wonder that she has become the guiding conscience
of this direct world of photography.
She recognized this power of photography as a social force and its ability to
help shape history. Her many memorable incisive depression years photographs
did effect government legislation and did help to shape history. For this she
became known as a documentary photographer who used her camera as a sharp so-
cial instrument. She sat in judgment. With her camera, she collected the
evidence. With her editing, she passed sentence.
Since 1956, she has travelled widely with her husband, Professor Paul Taylor,
in the Far East, Middle East and in South America. During these years, her
abilities reached their peak and she produced some of her finest photographs.
At this time of fulfillment she suffered her greatest physical pain. "Just
when I have gotten on the track, I find that I'm going to die. There are so
many things I have yet to do that it would take several lifetimes in which to
do them all. It's hell to get sick." Knowing that the end was near, she
spent her last 14 months assembling and completing a retrospective show of
her life's work that will open January 24, 1966 at the Museum of Modern Art
in New York City.
There are two projects she did not finish. First, the establishment of an
organization to photograph the culture of today's America, its prosperity and
its urbanization. For several years she has pronotc d its feasibility to
individuals and to institutions. When it does cone to pass it will be be-
cause of Dorothea Lange. The second unfinished project is "to expand the
boundaries of knowledge by the inclusion of photography into the institution-
al structure of higher education. There it can participate in the processes
by which knowledge is advanced, taught and applied."
There was a possible third project. A year ago, I told her of my dream to
walk every foot of the way across this America of ours taking photographs as
I travelled. Her face lighted up "Can I go with you?" I said "yes" then
and I say "yes" now. Photography could not travel in better compaiiy.
July 17, 1965
A PHOTOGRAPHY CENTER
A Photography Center can serve integrated efforts to
explore the place of photography in visual communication. It can
offer a training ground for students of the visual. It can afford opportunity
for people to learn to see. The camera is a unique instrument for
teaching people to see - with or without the camera.
Among the activities at the Center are these:
1. "PROJECT I" - A NATIONAL FILE OF PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE USA
(see attached sheet for description of "Project I")
Project I is housed within the Center. However, the core
of Project activities is independent of the Center. Its Director, together
with the team of photographers working with him, is wholly responsible
for the creation of the Project File, an undertaking which, because it
involves special responsibility and response to changing needs, cannot
be subordinated to other purposes. The very existence of a photographic
project of magnitude in close proximity, encourages at the Center a climate
of creative excitement and enrichment.
2. RESEARCH AND EXPERIMENTATION IN VISUAL, 'LANGUAGE
Selected groups of students, qualified by previous work
experience, should be enabled to participate in experimental work.
A group, committed for a limited period of time, under faculty
guidanc\, to record visually the substance of their lives with camera
only - ;their observations, alliances, connections and responses to the
world that immediately surrounds them. This temporary commitment
to a visual 1 - non-verbal - life is to be a total experience, requiring
conscious curtailment of life-long verbal habits for its duration. I feel
that from such experiments we may discover that the visual image is
truly a language.
In past eras of mankind, images have served as foundations for
written characters and language. The Center should now house explorations
and experiments with the visual image as a language in its own right.
The Center is not a trade school. It not only teaches techniques
but opens outlooks and attitudes which lead to a profession. Its concern
is not only with teaching how to make a fine photograph, but also with
teaching understanding of what it takes to make a great photograph or
great sequence of photographs.
Here at the Center is to be gathered a staff that - in order
to accomplish these purposes - should include at least three elements:
(1) Professional photographers who carry the continuing responsibility
for th Center's teaching.
(2) Non-photographers - an ever-changing group of teachers-in-
residence selected from diverse fields because their presence can enrich
and expand the conceptions and life of the Center.
(3) Technicians who instruct in the Laboratory.
A separate Laboratory staff to provide thorough instruction
in the photographic techniques for students and future laboratory
5. GALLERY AND PUBLIC ROOM
This place is important in the life of the Center. Here work
is exhibited and results studied. "Art is a tool for understanding and a
promoter of consequences. " Here, individual work in progress is shown.
Here group projects in all stages are studied. Here students foregather
to learn to listen to one another, to learn to criticise, to learn to eval-
uate work - including their own. Here also the seminars and clinics are
6. SPECIAL SEMINAR IN CULTURAL HISTORY
A special seminar program in cultural history could strengthen
the interrelationships between photography and other disciplines. Here,
for example, some social scientists might come to learn how photography
could widen their outlook and serve their ends, while some photographers
were learning how to apply some of the social scientists field-work tech-
niques and attitudes to their own problems.
The Center should conduct a Clinic, open to the public at
stated times, to which photographers - amateurs and professionals
alike - can bring their own photographs for critical judgment and
technical counsel. In this way the benefits of a growing understanding of
photography at the Center can be extended in widening circles to the
8. LIBRARY AND VIEWING ROOM
A collection of the finest books and slides on all aspects of
fine and applied photography, with emphasis on the highest quality.
Periodicals and books should be collected from all parts of the world.
9. INTERNESHIP PROGRAM
A. To enable students training to be professional photographers
to gain practical experience by sharing the daily work of practising B&
photographers in various fields advertising, news, editorial, scientific,
portrait, etc. etc.
B. To provide residence opportunities for museum directors,
curators and librarians, leading to better understanding of the medium.
Photography is just beginning to find its way into American museums and
archives. This training course could stimulate collections, improving
their range and quality.
C. To provide courses for critics of photography. Photography
has a short history, and has had few critics to remark its accomplishments
and challenge its mistakes. Critical judgment, based on knowledge and
appreciation of the unique qualities of this fascinating medium, is essential
to its future. The Center for Photography can attract, and sharpen the
perceptions of men and women to fill the need.
1163 Euclid Avenue
PROJECT I ^~
A proposal to create a national cultural resource, in the form of a
file of photographs. It calls for a Director, and a team of six to perhaps
ten professional photographers, free to travel and work all over the United
The subject of this file wiil be the life of the American people in the
1960's, with particular emphasis on urban and suburban life, over the country.
This photography will be concerned with the vast area of everyday life and
living, in all its multiplicity and complexity. It will be concentrated on what
exists and prevails, rather than on the extraordinary incident, the dramatic
happening, or the bizarre and unusual situation. When completed, it will offer
something not now being attempted a photographic record of our time for
The camera can reveal the values and purposes and dangers of our
intricate society, along with its outward appearance. I believe that this
scrutiny should not be an outlet for passionate personal protest. Instead,
it should be a reservoir of original documents. These documents will serve
as tools. Their strength rests on their many uses, as with all good research
Photographers should begin work by the Spring of 1967, and conclude
at the end of five years. The file should not be opened to use during its
initial years. Conceived as an important national resource, its repository
should probably be the Library of Congress, which should be charged with
its housing, management and protection., Here it can be drawn upon for use
It will establish a benchmark, to measure change, progress and
It can become an invaluable asset to historians, social scientists,
students of environmental design and the humanities, teachers,
writers, artists, legislators, judges, administrators, planners.
It will become a national resource for all who, in the future, have
use for visual images and the contemporary record.
Dorothea Lange. one of the
greatest female photogra-
phers of all time, died here
Monday. She Mas 70.
Although she had learned
she had incurable cancer 14
months ago and might live
only a month or two. she
threw herself into a project
that was to be the crowning
testament to her talent a
b i g. one-woman, retrospec-
tive show at the Museum of
Modern Art in New York.
She saw the first of the li-
nal exhibition prints before
returning to French Hospital
The show, now a posthu-
mous memorial to her more
than half-century of dedica-
tion to her art, will open
Dorothea Lange was born
in Hoboken. New Jersey, and
having decided by the age of
17 to be a photographer,
studied with the famed Clar-
ence White at Columbia Uni-
versity and later in San
Francisco with Arnold
Gent he. the great photogra-
pher of the 1906 earthquake
She operated a studio in
A Cancer Victim
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, Wednesday. October 1 3, 1965
San Francisco in the 1920s
and early 1930s but tired of
portraiture and looked to the
street and its harsh realities.
She photographed the ago-
nies of the depression-ridden
( waterfront, the breadlines
and the demonstrations.
In 1935, on assignment tor
the State Emergency Relief
Administration with her
'economist husband. Dr. Paul
schuster Taylor, s h e re-
corded the plight of Califor-
nia's broken, starving mi-
grant uorkers. the refugees
of the Dust Bowl.
One of her pictures of a
migrant mother, the pain of
j the times etched into her
face, and her two, forlorn
children is a prized posses-
sion of the Library of Con-
gress. In 1960 it was ad-
judged by a University of
Missouri panel one of the 50
most memorable pictures of
Jie past 50 years.
In 1962. the Portrait Photo-
graphers of America present-
ed her with their national
award "for her international
contributions to humanity
through photography." She
was similarly honored by the
American Society of Maga-
zone Photographers in 1963.
In addition to Doctor Tay-
lor, with whom she lived at
1163 Euclid avenue in Berke-
ley, she is survived by two
sons. Daniel Rhodes Dixon of
San Francisco and John Ea-
i glefeather Dixon of Berkeley.
They were her offspring by
| her first husband, the late fa-
mous painter of the Ameri-
can West. Maynard Dixon.
She is also survived by four
grandchildren and a brother,
Martin Lange of Honolulu.
Private services were held
yesterday at the Abbey of the
Chimes in Vallejo. A merr.jri-
al service is being planned
i for the future.
Dorothea Lange Taylor
Some notations of the last days and hours
About 3 p.m. , Friday, October 8, 1965. DLT: Call Dr. Gardner. Do
not give him an "optimistic"report when you tell him the symptoms.
But tell him I am not going to the hospital.
Later, 5:45 p.m. DLT: We're licked.' Call Dr. Gardner. I will go to
Sunday, 1:15 p.m. Dr. Rogers: She has finished her work.
Sunday evening. DLT: "I may be here for three weeks." A fine
clear hour with her two sons and their wives. Serious, and with jokes,
DLT: This is the right time. 1st t it a miracle that it comes at the
It comes so fast!
(When hemorrage began) This is it!
DLT drew her last breath about 4:37 a.m., Monday, October 11.
[These notes were given by Paul Taylor for inclusion in the manuscript.]
Letter from Paul Taylor to Dr. W.L. Rogers
14 October 1965
Dr. W.L. Rogers
San Francisco, California
Dear "Lefty" Rogers:
For more years than I can remember, you have certainly
known the confidence with which Dorothea and I have given her care
into your hands. The outcome always justified the confidence.
Now, after fourteen rough months, she has reached the end.
These months enabled her to complete preparations assuring that her
exhibition will open in New York on January 24, 1966. Their very
ruggedness has only increased our admiration for your skill, judgment
Although nobody could fill your place during your recent
absence, Dr. Gardner did very well by us, and gave us full confidence.
I would not overlook on this occasion that recently Dorothea
spoke several times her appreciation of Dr. Daniels. And she did not
overlook Dr. Leo Eloesser, with whom she began.
You will find convincing acknowledgments, I am sure, among
the notations I attach, tracing from Friday to about 4:37 Monday morning.
Three nurses gave fine care on the last night. Miss Brenda
Lyon, in particular, gave care in truly beautiful manner and spirit that
moved the members of the family as she assuaged the sufferings of
Dorothea. I have sent acknowledgments to each of the three - Mrs.
Santerre, Mrs. McManus and Miss Lyon.
I would like to know the revelations of the autopsy, and
shall call sometime to ask, if I may.
[Signed Paul Taylor]
Letter from Paul Taylor to Miss Brenda Lyon, R.N.
13 October 1965
Miss Brenda Lyon, R.N.
Evening Duty Shift, Intensive Care Unit
Fifth and Geary Boulevard
San Francisco, California
Dear Miss Lyon:
I am more than grateful to you for the beautiful
attentions and care that you gave to my wife during her
final hours - hardly more than hours ago. She recognized
and valued the quality of your services even as she lay
dying, and fully aware that the end was near. What you did,
and especially how you did it, will not be forgotten.
Under separate cover am sending copy of FAMILY OF MAN,
the exhibition known all over the world, in the preparation
of which she had large part, and which includes a number of
her own photographs.
[Signed Paul Taylor]
An Interview in The Berkeley Review. January 28. 1960
A born photographer
talks of her craft
It will come as news to
sonc of the acquaintances
of Mrs Paul Taylor of 1163
Euclid avenue that, in one
of her seven lives, she is
one of the world's most
Known professionally as
Dorothea Lange, she is also
housewife, mother, teacher,
world traveler, writer and
"I am a natural born pho-
tographer," Miss Lange said.
"I made up my mind when I
was a half -grown girl, when
I had never used a camera,
that photography would be
my life* s work. "
Since that abrupt decision
made: 47 years ago, Miss
Lange has taken thousands
of pictures throughout the
world. Many of them are now
preserved in the files of
the Library of Congress and
of other Government agencies.
Part of her work the re-
location of the Japanese at
the beginning of World War
II is impounded so that
even she can't see her work.
Another part four years of
work with the Office of War
Information was lost in
the confusion at war* s end.
For Miss Lange, the camera
is far more than a tool for
WORTH HAVING n\l It
There are things that
photography can do that are
worth slaving over," she
said. "The camera is a tre-
mendously powerful instru-
ment... in some hands."
As an example, she told
of an exhibit she is pre-
paring for the Museum of
Modern Art in New York.
'I am going to try to
show what I think about the
camera as a means of direct
and powerful communication
...no, not communication.
It's more than that: a means
"Tliis is mil. going to he
an exhibit of bu 1 1 se.ve
things. In fact, it may be
that some of the photographs
included will be poor tech-
nically. I have often been
forced by circumstances to
pick up a camera without
knowing what film I was
using, without having time
to check the aperture or
the focus and to shoot just
to get something I wanted
to preserve on film. But
these pictures will tell
some of the things I feel
(Continued from page 5)
deeply about; it will en-
compass a lot of things I' ve
learned and that I believe
During the tines when she
is preparing such an exhib-
it, Miss Lange becomes al-
most a recluse, seeing few
of her friends, taking no
pictures, simply selecting
and re-selecting the pic-
tures she wants to use to
say what she wants to say.
PROFESSOR* S Wire
She is the wife of Paul
Taylor, a professor of eco-
nomics and chairman of the
Institute for International
Studies at the University
of California. Their pro-
fessions overlap admirably.
They recently returned
from an eight-month tour of
Asia in which he studied
village aid and community
relations and she photo-
graphed the face of Asia.
Because she feels she has
to, she is now preparing an
exhibit of photographs taken
in Korea under the tenta-
tive title, "Let Me Tell
You Something About Korea."
"This is not coverage in
the photo journalistic
sense," she said. "It is an
effort to get others to
behold what I behold, to be
interested, to be involved
in it. This is a hard thing
Often Miss Lange prepares
exhibits for display in a
specific place for a spe-
cific purpose. In addition
to the Museum of Modern Art
display, she is preparing
60 photograph* for the
Italian government . n series
;>n "The Great Depression
7 Lean Years" for the New
York Public Library and half
a dozen other exhibits. But
she does not know where or
when the Korean display will
WHAT I WANT TO SAY
"This is something I feel
I have to do," she declared.
"With this one. I want to
prepare it to say just what
I want to say and then edit
that stateaent to fit the.
format, whether it be a
magazine or a museum dis-
play or a book."
About a year ago, a news-
paper wrote a story about
Miss Lange, giving her age
as 79. This was cause for
acute embarrassment for the
newspaper, amusement for
Miss Lange and consternation
for her friends, who were
already accustomed to mar-
veling at her vitality and
enthusiasm for her work.
She is really 64 and there
is still cause to marvel at
her vitality and enthusiasm.
AN AGELESS BEAUTY
Actually, Miss Lange has
that sort of ageless beauty
some few women develop after
the common attractiveness
of youth fades. It is not
difficult to imagine that
she will look much the same
as she does now when she
boards a space rocket to
photograph Mars in the Year
Her professional photo-
graphis career already spans
more than 40 years. During
the decade of the 20's, she
was a portrait photographer
in San Francisco.
For 'the next 20 years she
worked for many departments
of the Government in a var-
iety of assignments. During
the early days of the New
Deal she was a member of a
photographic team which
has since become famous
whose assignment was to
photograph the "Face of the
U.S.A." with emphasis on
RECORD OF NATION* S LIFE
"We made a photographic
record of 10 years in the
life of our nation," she
said. "There is nothing
like it anywhere else to my
knowledge. This collection
is now housed in the Library
of Congress and is widely
used for many purposes. No
such file has been attempted
Since she stopped working
for the Government after
I In- war. Missl.:uir.e lias
busy with assignments for
magazines and, primarily,
her own personal record of
the world as she sees it.
In June, she and her hus-
band hope to leave Berkeley
to return to Asia via Af-
ghanistan and. of course,
she will take her cameras
"I live many lives." she
said, "but photography is
my own personal life."
Saturday Review, March 5, 1966.
Recording Life -in -Process
laborafive sociaT-researcTrp'ro>cfsV she
grew increasingly aware of how power-
ful an instrument of communication and
persuasion the camera could be.
By MARGARET R. WEISS
CRITICS WHO separate "art that
involves" from "art that detaches"
would find it difficult to classify
Dorothea Lange's photography. For its
creative insigne and no small part of its
strength and durability has been the
immediacy with which it invites both
emotional involvement and reflective
In essence, this defines the character
of Dorothea Lange the woman as well
as Lange the photographer. Her intui-
tive responses to the human condition
were insights filtered through the prism
of intelligence; her way of knowing was
also her art of seeing.
Somewhere in her unpublished notes
she had written, "A photographer's files
are, in a sense, his autobiography." And
the gallery walls of the Museum of
Modern Art, where her first major retro-
spective has been installed, echo the
truth of that observation.
The task of selecting 200 representa-
tive prints for the exhibit was her own
private retrospective. "Learning out of
my own past" was how she described
the critical process of extracting from
each documentary file those subjects
that crystallized the essence of a situa-
tion rather than its particular circum-
stances. During months of sorting and
sifting negatives, shifting and changing
print arrangements on the huge wall-
boards above her files, she worked alone
or with John Szarkowski, director of the
museum's photography department
but always against time in the shadow
of terminal illness.
Now as the exhibition viewer ad-
vances from panel to panel, from wall
to wall, what he sees represents the
visual autobiography of Dorothea
Lange. Implicit is the prologue: Even
while still a student at the New York
Training School for Teachers, she had
decided to become a photographer.
With a gift camera from Arnold Gen the
and the basics of photography taught by
Clarence H. White at Columbia, she
made her way from a rented chicken-
coop darkroom on the Palisades to a
portrait studio of her own in San
The confining studio, static portrai-
ture, posed subjects, synthetic back-
grounds-these could not long satisfy
one convinced that life meant life-in-
process. For Lange, people existed in a
rhythmic flow of relationships; man
lived in symbiosis with his physical and
social environment. It was to reveal this
organic reality that she used her camera,
producing what her friend George P.
Elliott has termed "art for life's sake."
Not concerned with abstract symbols,
she sought out, scrutinized, and really
saw individuals. Her subjects became
prototypes even archetypes in some in-
stancesbut not stereotypes. There was
a fine distinction made between the
meaningful detail and the merely inci-
It was these qualities in her early self-
assigned coverage of the San Francisco
scene that brought her photography its
first exhibition at Willard Van Dyke's
studio in 1934, and in turn the attention
of Paul S. Taylor, a University of Cali-
fornia economics professor whose co-
worker and wife she became a year later.
Serving as visual reporter for their col-
_N the decade that followed, many
readers were to sense that power as they
looked at her incisive documentation of
migratory workers, of Japanese- Ameri-
can relocation camps, of the United
Nations Conference. Later, too, there
were longer, more leisurely nongovern-
ment assignments photo essays on 'The
New California," on Mormon communi-
ties, on Ireland, and on the peoples of
Asia, Egypt, and South America-and
the continuing pictorial chronicling of
her own family and home.
"Whether Dorothea's camera focused
on stoop labor in the lettuce fields, dele-
gates around the conference table, vil-
lagers in the Nile Valley, or patients in
a Venezuelan government hospital."
Professor Taylor remarked during a re-
cent visit to New York, "her special
'seeing' was seeing relationships. That's
what mattered most to her: the relation-
ships of people to people, people to
place to season to home and garden,
photo to photo, subject to subject, ton-
ality to tonality."
The museum retrospective conveys
much of this to the viewer. Themed wall
legends and panel arrangements signal
"relatedness," which readies the eye for
seeing more intrinsic relationships.
Dorothea Lange's visual autobiogra-
phy would not be complete without an
epilogue. And she left us one in Project
/her blueprint for "a national cultural
resource in the form of a file of photo-
graphs." The project's photographic unit
would comb the country documenting
all aspects of contemporary urban life,
not only outward appearance but inner
values, purposes, and dangers. She has
shown the way.
U C BERKELEY LIBHAHlii